By Eric Russell, BDN Staff, Posted June 27, 2011.
BANGOR, Maine — City councilors on Monday approved an $88 million municipal and school budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Friday, and in doing so achieved their goal of a zero tax increase.
The budget passed nearly unanimously, with only Councilor David Nealley voting in opposition.
Nealley said that while he was happy the council held the tax rate flat, he was disappointed that he and his colleagues did not go a little further to pass a budget that decreased taxes.
“We always say we’ve done all we can, but I never truly believe that,” he said.
Other councilors praised municipal staff for collectively responding to an early pledge to keep the tax rate at $19.20 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
“The fact the we were able to come together is astounding,” Councilor Nelson Durgin said.
Last year, the budget passed in the narrowest of votes, capping off weeks of sometimes contentious debate between staff and councilors and among councilors themselves. The result was a budget that increased the tax rate by 15 cents over the previous year and seemed to please no one on the council.
This year, six municipal positions were eliminated and no municipal employees will get cost-of-living wage increases, but the budget does not drastically reduce any city services. Councilor Geoff Gratwick said Monday that it was a privilege for him to pay taxes in Bangor because residents get a real bargain for the level of services.
Councilor Gerry Palmer said he doubted there was any other city in the country that passed a budget that holds taxes flat in the same year it approved a $65 million arena and convention center project.
Since the budget first was presented to councilors earlier this year by City Manager Catherine Conlow, there have been few fireworks. The only real controversy came when the council rejected the School Department’s initial budget and asked them to cut further to help keep the city’s pledge.
Conlow said recently that she was particularly proud that the city absorbed an increase in the tax levied by Penobscot County. Ironically, the county increase was needed to pay for its consolidation of emergency dispatch services with Bangor. That process is on hold pending a citizens’ referendum in November that seeks to overturn the council’s decision to merge its dispatch with the county.
The budget that passed Monday does not include any possible changes to recycling or trash removal, changes to downtown parking management or costs associated with moving the city’s emergency dispatch services. The city could, however, make a financial adjustment if any of those changes go through in the middle of the fiscal year.