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Even though the coronavirus has brought large swaths of the economy to a halt in the last month, Bangor and Brewer have so far not needed to make any major staffing cuts ahead of what are expected to be some serious drops in revenue over the coming year.
But both cities are still bracing for a financial fallout.
While Brewer is keeping a close eye on its spending, its municipal workforce has not changed even as many employees have started working from home and some city-run facilities such as the library have closed to the public.
In Bangor, the operator of the city-owned Cross Insurance Center has had to furlough employees after the venue closed to the public in mid-March. The city has also instituted a municipal hiring freeze, left seasonal positions unfilled and reduced the hours of some part-time staff at Bangor International Airport.
But so far, the neighboring communities have avoided needing to make any serious cuts to their staffing, unlike some of their counterparts in southern Maine.
As a result of revenue shortfalls related to the pandemic, Portland, Westbrook and South Portland have temporarily laid off hundreds of municipal employees who mostly do part-time, temporary or seasonal work, according to the Portland Press Herald.
In Bangor and Brewer, municipal workers have still had their hands full, according to Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow and Brewer Finance Director Karen Fussell
The exceptions in Bangor have been at the Cross Insurance Center and Bangor International Airport, both of which have seen drops in business as a result of the pandemic.
In March, the Cross Center closed its doors to its regular assortment of conferences, performances and sporting events as part of the city’s effort to prevent the spread of the virus, contributing to a steep drop in program revenue, according to Conlow. On Friday, the city was unable to provide a total of how many employees have been furloughed from the venue, which is operated by the company Spectra.
While the airport remains busy with flights carrying military personnel and cargo such as medical supplies, it has seen a drop in commercial business as domestic airlines have canceled flights and the remaining flights have had low occupancy. That’s contributed to less revenue from things such as parking, according to airport director Anthony Caruso.
As a result, some part-time city employees who did work such as ticketing and parking enforcement have seen their hours cut. However, the airport has recently been awarded more than $4.1 million in federal relief funds, according to Caruso.
Elsewhere in Bangor, the city has frozen hiring for new positions and left vacant some seasonal positions that are normally filled ahead of summer, according to Conlow. A specific breakdown of how many and which positions remain open was not available on Friday.
Both Conlow and Fusell said that they expect significant reductions in revenue from a number of sources in the coming year, including car registrations, local recreation programs and state revenue sharing.
Even though the share of statewide income and sales tax that goes to Maine communities is set to rise from 3 to 3.75 percent in the next fiscal year, the overall pot of funds for that program is expected to drop considerably as Mainers receive less income and reduce their spending — and pay less income and sales tax as a result.
While the final amount of state revenue sharing probably won’t be known for several months, it “is dropping like a stone,” Fussell said. She is conservatively budgeting for the final amount to be 35 percent lower than the city had projected before the coronavirus started shaking the nation’s economy.
As Brewer councilors start putting together next year’s budget, “I’m expecting we’re going to need to make difficult decisions,” Fussell said.
Watch: State labor commissioner speaks to unemployed Mainers