Friday, April 18, 2014
By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling firstname.lastname@example.org
FAIRFIELD — Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed elimination of municipal revenue sharing is so drastic that the town Council has taken the unusual measure of passing a formal resolution urging state lawmakers to oppose it.
Fairfield is one of a handful of towns that have opposed the tax cuts formally, with more expected to follow.
“If they were to go through with their proposal, we would lose a department of some sort,” council Chairwoman Tracey Stevens said. “Since this would be so devastating to us, we thought it would be prudent to take a stand.”
According to the resolution, the elimination of revenue sharing would result in a loss of more than $1 million for the town, which operates on an annual budget of $5.4 million. The effect would equal an additional $417 in property taxes on a home assessed at $100,000, the resolution says.
Supporters of the governor’s budget say the amount of revenue sharing that Fairfield would lose is $700,000, not the $1 million that the resolution cites.
The lower figure is the amount Fairfield received this year, while the higher figure is the level of funding the Maine Municipal Association says is legally required of the state.
“For three or four years, we already have not been getting revenues as required in statute,” said Town Manager Josh Reny, who called the proposed state budget “draconian.”
Over that period, Reny said, the town has eliminated four full-time positions, or 10 percent of its current workforce of 40 full-time employees.
Fairfield’s council unanimously approved the resolution, which was sent to state legislators a few days ago, according to Reny.
Fairfield is not alone in taking a public stance on the matter.
In Oakland, Town Manager Peter Nielsen said he has drafted a letter about the state budget that is scheduled to come before the Town Council there for possible approval next week.
The municipal association maintains a website that displays similar resolutions and letters from the communities of Bridgton, Lewiston, Sebago, South Portland, Hallowell, Calais, Lincoln and Presque Isle.
The Maine People’s Alliance, a liberal advocacy group, said resolutions have passed or are being submitted in more than 50 municipalities across the state, including the central Maine communities of Augusta, Gardiner, Skowhegan, and St. Albans.
“There are a lot of people in municipalities and schools that are nervous,” Reny said.
Reny said that towns are responding with unusual vigor because the effects of the proposed cuts would be so dramatic.
If the money were to be cut from the budget rather than passed along to taxpayers, Reny said, the effect would be devastating.
Reny said the loss of $1 million couldn’t be made up by eliminating the entire police force, which costs the town $899,276, or the entire Public Works Department, which has an annual budget of $970,232. Each department has 11 full-time employees.
“It’s so significant we’re actually talking about public safety,” he said. “When we’re talking about whether we can afford police and fire, that’s serious.”
Reny said there is a way for towns to become more efficient in the delivery of basic services, but that it needs to be a multi-year, collaborative effort between the state and municipalities.
“The idea that sudden and severe fiscal harm to municipalities will somehow force towns to form a better system is unrealistic,” Reny said.
Despite the governor’s proposal, the town is moving forward with a budget process that assumes state revenue sharing will be in place.
The Budget Committee is considering a proposed budget that includes $660,000 in revenue sharing from the state, a decrease of $40,000 from last year.
Reny said the governor’s proposal is so extreme that the town couldn’t plan for it reasonably.
“We couldn’t possibly develop a budget proposal based on what’s been proposed by the governor, because it really would mean the complete elimination of some town departments,” he said.
Were the governor’s proposal to pass, Reny said, the council probably would hold a public hearing to gather comments on how to balance the cuts between service reductions and property tax hikes.
The municipal association has released a list of meetings at which legislators will discuss the state budget process with the public. Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, has held meetings in Waterville and Pittsfield this month.
She plans to host a third and final meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Benton Elementary School.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287