LEWISTON — City officials may not be expecting anything special under the tree on Christmas, but they did unleash a big list of wishes for state legislators for the coming year.
City Administrator Ed Barrett, city councilors and Lewiston school officials asked for everything from more municipal revenue to more authority to deal with truant youngsters at a special workshop with five Lewiston legislators: state Sen. Nathan Libby and representatives Peggy Rotundo, Jared Golden, Heidi Brooks and Michel Lajoie.
The meeting originally was scheduled for Dec. 9, but was postponed because of a storm. Rotundo said it was important for the legislators to hear what city officials had to say before they began the next session.
“I think knowing about bills that need to be sponsored and could be a help to you is great for us hear,” she said. “We really do understand what it is you are talking about.”
Barrett made the case for preserving and restoring municipal revenue sharing. That is a 5 percent share of the income and sales tax revenue the state receives. It was money meant to help reduce the burden of municipal costs on property taxpayers, but it’s been reduced year after year, Barrett said.
The state currently pays $3.8 million less than it should, according to state statutes.
“That’s a 60 percent reduction in the City of Lewiston’s second-largest revenue source,” Barrett said. “It’s had a tremendous impact on us. But at the same time, we have really tried to be responsible.”
Lewiston has responded by reducing spending and laying off staff, Barrett said. The city’s at the point now where the only answer is to reduce services and increase taxes.
“It used to be we were able to cut stuff that was not so noticeable,” Barrett said. “But it’s starting to get more and more noticeable, and we are at the point where the cuts will get more dramatic (regarding) the services that we provide our citizens.”
He also made the case for giving the state control of General Assistance, state-mandated payments that local governments can make to the help residents pay for rent, heat and medical bills.
“If the state took it back and ran it, it could be integrated in to the overall system,” he said.
Barrett also argued for new municipal revenue sources. Those could include a local sales tax and fees charged to nonprofits that don’t pay taxes.
He said the city is working to create legislation that would let the city turn the Fire Department into a utility, with fees charged for square footage. That would allow the city to charge large nonprofits that do not currently pay property taxes. It would allow the city to cut $4.55 off of the city’s property tax rate — about $682 on a $150,000 home.
“Everybody would pay it,” he said. “Homeowners would pay it, the city would pay it, businesses would pay it and nonprofits would pay it — just like they pay water, sewer and storm water.”
Assistant School Superintendent Tom Jarvis also made a pitch for more consistent state revenue, control of state-mandated programs that don’t come with funding and lowering the truancy age from 7 to 5 years old.