LEWISTON – Calling it one of the toughest budgets ever, councilors settled on a $39.8 million property tax commitment for city and school services Tuesday night.
Councilors unanimously voted to create a storm sewer utility, increase fees for some apartment trash collections and preserve some money for private schools.
It’s been a tough, contentious process, said Mayor Lionel Guay.
“We’re still probably crooks to some people,” Guay said. “But that’s just fine. We’ve done the best we could for the people of Lewiston. We’ve actually lowered taxes and we’ve worked very hard.”
Overall, councilors adopted an $81.9 million spending plan for the city and schools, a 3.75 percent increase compared to last year.
Property taxes under the plan increase less than 1 percent. That means that the city’s property tax rate will go down slightly, the result of new investment and property values. The new tax rate will be about $26.65 per $1,000 of value.
A very different crowd greeted councilors Tuesday, compared to a week ago. Last week, angry taxpayers demanded relief from a citywide revaluation. Tuesday, after councilors had agreed to toss out the revaluation results, most were grateful.
David Girard of 39 Fisher St., vowed to direct his political anger at state officials now. Girard called for a recall for all city councilors, Guay and several city employees last week.
“I applaud each of you,” Girard said. “Just six days after the revaluation came out, you made a very moral decision. It’s a lot more than we’d have gotten from other towns.”
Girard urged Lewiston citizens to march on the state capitol and demand changes to Maine’s tax laws.
Revaluations weren’t enough for everyone. Buddie Rackliff, of 187 Sabattus St., argued the new storm sewer utility and charges for trash collections were unfair. As an apartment landlord, small charges can add up.
“It could mean I don’t have the money to replace a window or two, or install a couple of fire proof doors,” Rackliff said.
Under the storm sewer utility plan, homeowners would pay a set $30 per year fee. Businesses and non-profits with significant paved areas – like parking lots – would pay most of it.
But the city does not have fee schedules showing how much a given property would pay. Councilors will have to settle those details this summer.
That bothered Councilor Mark Paradis, who suggested delaying the utility until January. That would have added about 50 cents to the city’s property tax rate. Other councilors said lowering the property tax rate was too important, however.
Apartments with more than two units will pay for trash collections under the new budget. Now, apartments with three units or fewer don’t pay. The city will charge $150 per year for each unit. The city charges $1.55 per week, per unit now. That’s about $80 per year.