LEWISTON – Councilors made it clear Thursday that any property tax increases would be unwelcome.

“I don’t want to lay anybody off this year,” Councilor Stavros Mendros said. “I don’t want to make difficult cuts. But sometimes, you have to do things you don’t want to do. But I will not vote to raise taxes.”

The City Council continued working on the fiscal year 2004-05 budget Thursday, quizzing city department heads over individual items. They’ll continue discussions at 6 p.m. next Thursday.

“The question I have for department heads, is this: Would you rather go back and find a way to cut 1 percent out of your budget or would you rather have us do it?” Mendros said.

City Administrator Jim Bennett told councilors he would try and find places to trim, but it wouldn’t be easy.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to get you to no tax increase,” Bennett said. “Believe me, if I would have thought I could give you a budget that had no tax increase, didn’t lay off any employees and didn’t increase other fees, I would have presented it to you right now.”

Bennett’s budget calls for a tax hike of 55 cents for each $1,000 of property value – about $43 more each year on an $85,000 home.

In all, the budget calls for $1.97 million in new spending. About $624,000 of that is targeted to pay city debts and another $786,000 would go to salaries, health insurance, liability insurance and unemployment insurance.

Councilors will have to trim $800,000 to keep the tax rate from increasing.

Most councilors echoed Mendros.

“I look at everything in this book as on the table,” Councilor Ron Jean said.

Running the city properly – not just trimming taxes – should be the council’s concern, Councilor Mark Paradis countered.

“I would be against cutting any more people,” Paradis said. “I just don’t think that’s realistic.” The council has trimmed as many as 30 jobs over the last two years. “At this point, we have to do what is best for the city,” he said.

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