BANGOR, Maine — The opposing sides on Bangor’s $44 million school budget — an issue so far lacking in controversy — are nevertheless speaking loudly, crudely and in three dimensions with their latest sign war near City Hall.
This year’s battle began May 7 with the placement of a giant paper-mache pig in the public right of way between Park and Harlow streets. The big pink sculpture urges residents to vote against the budget.
Paul Trommer, who opposes the budget, said he was involved in the pig project as “just one of many folks who are concerned about the failure of fiscal responsibility by the school department.”
Going on to describe the school department as “oozing waste” in an email to the Bangor Daily News, he declined to identify the actual artist who constructed the pig.
While the pig elicited a few small signs in response on the corner, followings its placement, supporters of the school budget have since emerged with their own sculpture — a pile of brown dung strategically placed behind the pig.
Sticking out of the fake dung is a sign that reads “Cut The Crap, Not The Budget. Vote Yes.”
Asked about the ongoing sign war, Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas said state law and local ordinance allow political signs in the public right of way up to six weeks prior to the referendum, so long as they are not hazardous to traffic.
All of the signs appeared to fit within the state’s broad definition of political signage, he said Thursday. They must be removed within a week after the election.
Bangor Schools Superintendent Betsy Webb declined to comment about the signs.
The school committee approved the budget April 8 and the City Council approved a first reading of the budget Monday without dissent. If approved by the council during its May 27 meeting, the $43.97 million budget proposal will move to voters in a public referendum June 9.
As proposed, the budget calls for an 11-cent increase in the local property tax rate. That comes after a 59-cent increase in the mill rate last year. In a previous interview, Webb attributed the lower mill rate hike this year to an additional $408,813 in state funding included in the governor’s proposed budget.
That’s up 2.5 percent from the prior year, though it does not make up for the $1.2 million in state funding lost between the 2009-10 fiscal year and the 2014-15 school year, according to school officials.
Webb said Monday the school budget is subject to change with the possibility of more state revenue from the Legislature, which has not yet approved a budget for fiscal 2016.
Despite signage opposing the school budget in the same location last year, the previous school budget referendum passed by a vote of 2,051 in favor and 1,081 against.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.