Lewiston mayor, councilors favor higher taxes to cover state cuts

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.

Scott Taylor/Sun Journal

Lewiston city councilors Thursday night debate a slate of budget reductions designed to cover cuts state legislators made in revenue-sharing to municipalities, giving thumbs up or thumbs down on specific line items. Councilors must cut an additional $1.1  million from the budget they approved in May to keep property taxes from increasing further.

"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.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Wow

I've been no fan of the mayor's, but I have to admit that I think he's right on this one.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Small business

Lewiston is blessed with many small businesses and the festivals and arts programs bring a lot of business to local restaurants and shops. I would hate to see their funding cut. Perhaps postponing new projects and new hires would be the better way to go. I am somewhat apprehensive about cuts to Public Works. I'm guessing that overtime mainly occurs during storms and we could end up in a pickle next winter. I also would not favor cuts to police and fire services as those are paramount to safety. I agree with the mayor that we cannot go entirely with cuts to services without doing harm to the future growth of our community.

Roger Moulton's picture

Only in Lewiston

Would anyone believe it would be better to be Lewiston than Mayberry lol. Sorry that was just funny.

Mike Lachance's picture

Roger, I appreciate your

Roger, I appreciate your point, and I understand your point. But Lewiston is a large city. Buckfield is a small town (ok, village), Bridgton is a small town. Mayberry (fictional nonetheless) is a small town.

To be a City the size of Lewiston and offer no more than Bridgton would be a bit disastrous.

Mike Lachance's picture

(of course "large city" is

(of course "large city" is relative term... I should add "for Maine")

Jason Theriault's picture

I never though I would say this.

I am jealous of Lewiston.
The residents of Auburn could learn alot from Macdonald.

These little things - funding schools, support of local festivals, maintaining the local parks, they all increase property values. No one wants to live in a town with bad schools, no civic activities, and a crumbling infrastructure. That $90 increase is an investment in the future and will pay dividends in property values.

As much as I have balked at Mayor Macdonald in the past, he is dead on correct here, and I applaud his courage at bucking the tea party line of no tax increases.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The only problem I have with

The only problem I have with their line of thinking is the law of incrementation almost always follows any increase in anything.
We go along with a $90 tax increase and the next thing you know they're looking for a $390 increase or they're looking to jack up the rain tax by another $20 per quarter. Incrementation rules.

Jason Theriault's picture

The problem

The problem isn't incremental thinking, it's that more money provides diminishing returns. You have to evaluate where you are on the curve. That's the problem with both sides - spending less regardless of the situation may result in catastrophic declines in service just as increases over a certain level are completely ineffectual.

Thats why I'm not for smaller government, I'm for more effective government.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

True, but the downside to

True, but the downside to that is that too many politicians believe effective is spelled B-I-G-G-E-R.

Mike Lachance's picture

More effective Govt should

More effective Govt should always equate to a smaller Govt when comparing apples to apples.

The problem in all of this is the amount of social services being funded (or now, not funded) which are expected to grow and grow with each passing year that more people relocate to Lewiston because of the generous social services. This is a slippery slope that will not improve until the cause is addressed directly. Has homeownership increased or decreased in Lewiston over the past 10 years? if so, how has the mil rate changed in relation to homeownership? How about per capita dollars spent on welfare and social services for Lewiston through those same 10 years? If Property taxes are the answer, perhaps we've already crossed the tipping point of negative returns.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Great point. I 'll bet the

Great point. I 'll bet the pols never thought of it.

Jason Theriault's picture

Let me restate that

I'm for effective government. I want results for my money. I'm not worried about the size as long as it is producing results.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

We pay for size, you know?

We pay for size, you know?

Jason Theriault's picture

But

That doesn't mean it's bad to be big. There are economies that can be achieved with a large organization that a small one can't match.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

If it's bigger, it costs more

If it's bigger, it costs more and probably has more layers of bureaucracy thus making it more difficult to manage and account for. Smaller is better and likely more efficient. Do you think the cities of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are REALLY being properly managed? They're all just about flat broke.

John Clement's picture

how come cutting admin people

how come cutting admin people never come up, it's always the line staff? cut the staff at city hall and all paper shufflers, pencil sharpeners, coat holders, and door openers. In other words, all the "non-essential" people that won't affect day to day life.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Notice no one mentioned any

Notice no one mentioned any cuts to the school dept. budget. It's always Public Works, Police and Firefighters that take the heat (pun intended).

Jason Theriault's picture

Seperate

Unless I am mistaken, the city budget doesn't include the school budget, which is voted on separately

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Money is money regardless of

Money is money regardless of what it's called. It may be separate but it still can be cut.

Jason Theriault's picture

Because you need them

While guys fixing the roads or patrolling for crime are much more visible, the people "shuffling around papers" are just as important. They handle the tax form, registrations, marriages, ect.... You star cutting them, expect time to triple for stuff like birth certificates, licenses, ect.

And unlike the fire and public works, their work results in funds coming in.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Wrong City in the headline?

Wrong City in the headline?

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