BANGOR, Maine — Bangor will increase its minimum wage starting in 2017, regardless of whether a statewide wage hike initiative expected next year is successful.
The City Council voted 7-2 to raise the minimum wage in Bangor to $8.25 per hour effective the first day of 2017. The next year, the wage will increase to $9 per hour. In 2019, it will scale up to $9.75, increasing in years after based on the consumer price index. Currently, Bangor follows the statewide minimum of $7.50 per hour.
“One way or another, wages are going up in Bangor,” Councilor Joe Baldacci said just before the final vote.
Bangor’s increase will happen even if a statewide ballot initiative to increase Maine’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 fails to pass at the polls. That question is expected to appear on the ballot in November 2016.
If the statewide referendum passes, Bangor would follow the statewide increase benchmarks.
The minimum wage debate has puttered along since last summer, when Councilor Joe Baldacci first officially proposed an increase to $9.75 per hour by 2019, with the first phased increase scheduled to take effect next month. Baldacci has been weighing and promoting the idea since last February.
That proposal failed to gain traction in months following, as councilors and members of the public raised questions and concerns about some groups that were excluded from the increase.
Opponents also have argued a minimum wage increase shouldn’t be made by an individual municipality. Others believe increasing the minimum wage in Bangor could drive businesses away, making the community seem less business-friendly.
Councilors Nelson Durgin and David Nealley, who cast the two dissenting votes, said they believed the city was stepping out of line by passing its own ordinance.
Supporters of the increase agreed that the state should increase its minimum wage, but because it has failed to do so for so long, it was up to Bangor to take action.
“If they fail to lead, we’re going to lead,” Council Chairman Sean Faircloth said.
Some residents have raised concerns about what effect the raise might have on local property taxes. Two residents who spoke during the public comment period questioned Baldacci’s motives, arguing that he was using the minimum wage push to promote his congressional candidacy.
The ordinance that passed was one of four proposals that the council has considered. It includes tipped employees, all companies no matter their number of employees, and workers under age 18. None of those groups were included in Baldacci’s original proposal. Baldacci supported the amendments but said he wanted the increase to happen in 2016.
In September, Portland’s City Council voted to increase the minimum wage in the state’s largest city to $10.10 — making it the first municipality in the state to surpass the state’s threshold. That minimum wage takes effect in January.
A citizen-led ballot initiative to increase Portland’s minimum wage further — to $15 per hour — failed at the polls last month after strong resistance from the local business community.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.