BANGOR, Maine — Members of the City Council railed about dysfunction in Augusta, unfunded state and federal mandates and the actions of Gov. Paul LePage as they voted 6-2 Monday evening to approve the final piece of a $94.1 million city and school budget that calls for a 15-cent property tax increase per mill.
Speaking in turn, multiple councilors said the tax increase could have been a tax cut if not for factors beyond their control, particularly the actions of the Legislature and governor.
“It’s a vendetta of how much can I go and hurt these people that oppose the way I feel. That’s what’s coming out of Augusta. That’s why your taxes are going up,” said Councilor Patricia Blanchette, a former state lawmaker.
Multiple councilors complained that, in spite of lobbying efforts by municipalities, state lawmakers have refused to restore revenue sharing to its statutory levels. City officials also said the state continues to shift costs such as teacher retirement and mandatory General Assistance programs to municipalities.
“I really have to emphasize how much I think this is the result of dysfunction, dysfunction at the state level,” said Councilor Sean Faircloth, also a former state lawmaker.
With councilors Davie Nealley and Pauline Civiello dissenting — and Councilor Josh Plourde absent — the council approved a $50.03 million municipal budget, adding to the $44.07 million school budget already approved by voters.
During discussion, Councilor Joe Baldacci, a rumored congressional candidate in 2016, criticized Gov. Paul LePage’s latest veto of the state budget, which could force the council to amend its own budget if the Legislature makes changes when attempting to overturn the veto.
After issuing 64 line-item vetoes in an admitted attempt to waste lawmakers’ time, the governor vetoed the state budget Monday evening, the final day for him to do so. The Legislature is scheduled to take up the veto Tuesday.
If the Legislature makes substantial changes in overruling the gubernatorial vetoes, the City Council will have to meet again to amend its budget, said Council Chairman Nelson Durgin.
Meanwhile, Nealley criticized the Affordable Care Act, calling it an unfunded mandate that has “done nothing to actually lower health care costs, nor has it lowered health care premiums.”
“This is a federal mandate that has significantly increased the cost of the city budget, so in effect, it’s almost a tax shift,” he said.
He noted that while payroll at the airport was down about $400,000, health insurance costs were still up about $50,000.
Baldacci responded in defense of the ACA, saying that while premiums have gone up, “covering more people is a good thing.”
“I think if we’re going to beat up on the Affordable Care Act, we need to look at all of the facts and how it helps people,” he said, noting that 60,000 Mainers have health insurance as a result of the law and another 70,000 would had Maine expanded its Medicaid program.
Nealley also objected to the continued drawdown of revenue sharing, calling his vote against the budget a protest vote.
The city’s fiscal 2016 budget includes an $800,000 bond issue for road projects for the year to be conducted in conjunction with a backlog of city paving projects approved in prior years along with several state projects.
City Manager Cathy Conlow estimated about $5 million worth of paving would be completed in the Bangor area between city and state projects this fiscal year.
The budget includes $418,760 to cover wage increases for the city’s unionized and nonunionized employees. It also includes $301,548 to cover health insurance increases.
Civiello raised concern over those issues in a telephone interview before the vote.
“(There are) people getting raises yet some people who are paying our property taxes don’t get raises.” she said. “For me, I’m uncomfortable with it.”
Overall, the budget calls for a property tax increase of 15 cents, increasing the property tax rate from $21.80 to $21.95. For a property assessed at $150,000, that’s a property tax increase of $22.50 from fiscal 2015, a total of $3,292.50.
Had the council failed to approve a budget Monday, Conlow’s original budget proposed in April would have gone into effect. That budget called for a 35-cent property tax increase per mill.
The budget calls for a spending increase of 2.6 percent on the city side and 1.7 percent on the school side.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.