LEWISTON — Some city councilors and Mayor Robert Macdonald said Thursday they would rather increase property taxes this coming fiscal year than sacrifice services to offset state revenue-sharing cuts.
"If you want to make money, you have to invest," Macdonald said. "We have a lot of people on Lisbon Street investing, and this place is starting to take off. They've invested in the city and we need to do it, too. If we start cutting everything, we're going to go from a Lewiston to a Mayberry. "
With the state budget settled, city councilors know for sure they need to find some way to cover $1.1 million in state revenue-sharing that they won't receive.
City Administrator Ed Barrett outlined four options for councilors Thursday that ranged from passing the entire cut along to property-tax payers — an additional $90 for a home valued at $150,000 — to cutting services to cover the entire amount.
Councilors were solid in their support of cutting at least $86,040 in city spending to save a nickel on the tax rate, but they split on an option that would have trimmed a whole host of services for $429,000 in savings.
Options ranged from eliminating overtime for Public Works and Police Department staff to not financially supporting special events such as the Liberty Festival, Great Falls Balloon Festival and Dempsey Challenge. Memberships would cease in several municipal organizations, and there would be hiring delays and freezes.
That was too much for Macdonald.
"If we want to become the city that attracts people, then we're going to have to invest," Macdonald said. "They can call me a conservative Republican, but the labels don't mean anything. If we don't invest in this city, it's going to go down."
Councilors agreed that city in-kind support for the special events and festivals must continue, but they split on many other options. Barrett said he'd refine his list and bring it back for a second supplemental budget workshop on July 9.
The Lewiston councilors wrapped up work on their budget's first round in May, approving a $43 million spending plan for city operations and a $54.5 million school spending plan. The overall budget would set the tax rate at about $26.05 per $1,000 of property value, a $39 increase on the tax bill for a $150,000 home.
But that was before the state government settled its budget.
State legislators approved a two-year spending plan Wednesday that includes up to $70 million in cuts to revenue-sharing through 2015.
Revenue-sharing is state money earmarked for municipal services. Lewiston received $4.3 million in shared state revenue in 2012-13. Under the budget approved Wednesday, Lewiston will receive $2.8 million — $1.1 million less than it put in the budget it approved in May. It's forcing councilors to adopt a supplemental budget.
Barrett said he expects councilors to vote on the supplemental budget at their July 16 meeting.