HAMPDEN, Maine — The first of two required public hearings regarding the Hampden Town Council’s proposal to eliminate Community Connector Saturday bus runs in town drew mostly supporters of the service to the meeting Monday night.
Also Monday, after another public hearing that generated no public comment, councilors voted 4-2 to adopt a $6.8 million municipal budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts on July 1.
While more than $130,000 lower than this year’s budget, the new one maintains the current level of services and will hold the town’s property tax rate steady.
The bus hearing is one of two that must be held if the town decides to move forward on the plan as a way to cut the town’s costs. The second will be conducted on July 15 in Bangor by Community Connector officials.
Many of the 15 people who urged the councilors to continue the Saturday service said they depend on it for getting to work, shopping, banking and other errands.
Resident Lori Lathrop, who is diabetic, said she needs the bus because she lost her driver’s license due to vision loss and that she is not permitted to pick up her new prescriptions for insulin until the current one expires, regardless if that is on Saturday.
Andrew Husson, also a resident, said his fiancee works a part time, minimum wage job and that having to take a cab to work essentially would burn up the earnings of two shifts at her job.
Husson said his family takes the bus to the hospital, which is far less costly than an ambulance. He said funding not spent on public transportation can result in lost wages, less spending at local businesses and more spending on public assistance.
Others said they weren’t regular users of the bus but wanted it to continue because it was needed by others.
“I find it an essential service to provide for the people of Hampden, to allow them to shop and do their groceries on Saturdays,” resident Jaric Fontaine said.
“I also want it for myself and my family members. In the event that anything happened to my vehicle, I would need a Saturday bus service to go places that I would need to. So I don’t mind paying the property taxes to pay for that service if I need it.”
Noting that the town has received conflicting information on its potential savings from the Community Connector — $28,000 last year versus $13,000 this year — resident Debbie Dutton said even using the larger figure shows that the Saturday bus run has a negligible impact on taxpayers.
Dividing $28,000 by the 3,600 property tax accounts in town, “We come out with a grand total of $7.77 per year for each taxpayer to kick in for Saturday bus service. And another way of looking at it is two cents a day,” she said.
“One of the wisest men who ever walked on this earth said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” Dutton said, quoting Jesus.
“I know that their are neighbors of mine that need that Saturday bus service. Fortunately I now this town. Can we love our neighbors two cents a day? I think we can. I thinks that’s the type of town that we are.”