City to hold budget hearing

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LEWISTON – Delaying a citywide property revaluation doesn’t change the bottom line: The city still needs to come up with about $40.6 million in property taxes, find other ways to pay for city services, or cut spending.

Councilors are scheduled to vote tonight on the fiscal year 2007 budget, after a public hearing and comment period.

They already have dealt with the most controversial issue facing taxpayers in the coming year, a citywide revaluation. Councilors decided last week to delay the revaluation since it showed a shift in the tax burden away from businesses and onto single-family homeowners.

City Administrator Jim Bennett said his proposed budget stays mostly level. The city collected about $39.5 million in property taxes for the 2005-06 fiscal year. This new budget would call for $40.6 million – about even when about $1.2 million in new revenues from economic growth are considered.

“That number didn’t change one way or the other because of the revaluation,” Bennett said. “But by shifting back to the old values, people can see that the budget was never the driver for their tax bills. The way that the budget looks, total taxes – the tax rates and everything – would actually go down.”

There would be new revenues, however. A storm water utility, charging a fee based on the amount of paved area a property has, would generate about to $1.5 million. Most of that would come from big businesses and non-profits. Homeowners would pay a set $30 annual fee.

Fees generated by trash collections would also increase. The budget calls for requiring three unit apartments to begin paying for city trash collection. They’d pay more, as well. Currently, landlords pay about $80 per year per unit. The proposed budget would increase that to $150 per year per unit.

“Even with the increase, it’s still lower than what we figure apartment trash collections are costing us,” Bennett said. “So, taxpayers are still subsidizing some part of the apartment trash collections.”

The budget would also do away with the city’s free punch pass program. That gives property owners the right to take a certain amount of trash to the landfill.

Only resident landowners would be allowed punch passes, according to the new rules. Renters and landlords that don’t live in town wouldn’t be allowed.

The passes would cost $10 for the first pass and $30 after that. Each pass lets people take about 15 pickup loads of trash to the landfill.

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