BREWER, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage’s threatened cuts in municipal and educational funding will be the primary subject discussed when local and state government representatives of Bangor and Brewer meet on Thursday, officials said Monday.
The annual meeting, Bangor City Council Chairman Joe Baldacci said, briefs the area’s state representatives and senators on issues dear to the municipalities.
“We want to be sure they hear us loud and clear from both sides of the river,” Baldacci said Monday.
Released Jan. 6, LePage’s two-year $6.8 billion state budget would eliminate state funding for local public school administration costs in favor of an $11 million fund over the next two years for “regional education service agencies that school districts can contract with to provide services.”
LePage proposed cutting the entire $12.1 million allocation for General Assistance in the next fiscal year. The program, which gives poor Mainers vouchers to cover things like rent, food and medication on the condition that most seek work, has long been on the fiscally conservative Republican’s chopping block.
LePage also seeks to delay for one year the implementation of Question 2 on November 2016’s statewide ballot, which placed a 3 percent surtax on annual income over $200,000 to fund education.
Such cuts will be harrowing to municipalities such as Bangor and Brewer, which already suffer from state underfunding, Brewer Mayor Kevin O’Connell said.
“The big thing is the state budget,” O’Connell said. “The one thing that you are going to hear the most of is property taxes. What they are dictating in Augusta will dictate property taxes locally.”
Brewer’s mill rate is $21.52 per $1,000 of valuation. Bangor’s is $22.50 for the 2016-17 fiscal year that ends June 30. The property tax rates mean that owners of homes valued at $100,000 pay $2,152 annually in taxes in Brewer and $2,250 annually in Bangor.
Bangor’s mill rate has risen steadily from $17.48 per $1,000 in 2006 while Brewer’s has fluctuated between $16.56 per $1,000 in 2006 and the present rate, according to a property tax history at maine.gov.
As an example of underfunding, Baldacci estimated that Bangor had lost at least $5 million in state funding over the last five or six years because of state government failure to meet legally required funding levels for general assistance and education.
Bangor and Brewer have eliminated or left positions unfilled or cut some city services in response, this while state government has m ore than $1 billion in its cash pool, a state record. That surplus “looks good on the books,” O’Connell said.
“More power to him,” O’Connell added of LePage, “but I wonder if he would support the things he supports now if he were still the mayor of Waterville.”
LePage served as mayor from 2004 until being elected governor in 2011, according to a city history.
The Bangor-Brewer meeting will be held at the Brewer auditorium at 5:30 p.m., O’Connell said.
BDN writers Chris Cousins and Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.