February 12, 2013

Hallowell voices opposition to LePage's proposed budget cuts

Resolution asks Legislature to not suspend revenue sharing to municipalities

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

HALLOWELL — Municipal officials across the state have said Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget will force severe cuts to services or steep increases in property taxes.

Now, cities and towns are registering their complaints in official form, through resolutions like the one approved unanimously by the Hallowell City Council on Monday.

The Hallowell resolution asks LePage and the Legislature to approve a budget that doesn’t suspend revenue sharing for municipalities, shift half of the responsibility for pension contributions to school districts or eliminate property tax relief for low-income people and homeowners younger than 65.

A handful of municipalities have approved similar resolutions, and the Maine People’s Alliance, a liberal advocacy group, said there are more than 50 others where residents are gathering signatures to submit resolutions to their officials.

At a State House rally Tuesday organized by the Maine People’s Alliance, Hallowell Mayor Charlotte Warren said everyone needs to pay their fair shares to come to a balanced budget.

“The burden certainly shouldn’t fall only on the towns and property taxpayers,” she said.
Hallowell Ward 4 Councilor Mark Sullivan worked with City Manager Michael Starn to draft a resolution, after seeing reports about similar ones adopted in Lewiston and South Portland.

David Sorensen, spokesman for the Maine House Republicans, said in statement Tuesday that the Maine People’s Alliance was a controversial group and he claimed its members had been rude to a Republican legislator.

Sorensen also pointed to Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte, who recently said he sees LePage’s budget proposal as an opportunity for municipalities to find savings by consolidating services with their neighbors.

According to the Associated Press, members of the Maine People’s Alliance at the Tuesday rally also played a video of LePage, taken in 2010 when he was mayor of Waterville. In the video, LePage speaks out against state school funding cuts affecting Waterville. LePage now says his budget cuts are a better option than cutting welfare or raising taxes.

If LePage’s budget were approved as proposed, Hallowell would lose $188,857 in revenue sharing, according to the city’s resolution.

The local school district, Regional School Unit 2 — which also includes Dresden, Farmingdale, Monmouth and Richmond — would have to pay an additional $300,000 to fund teacher retirement costs.

And even if Hallowell and RSU 2 were to cut services rather than passing along a tax increase, many residents would still see their property taxes increase because of proposals to end the so-called circuit breaker tax relief program for low-income Mainers, and the homestead exemption for homeowners under 65.

Sullivan said that in addition to making a statement about the Hallowell City Council’s concerns, he hopes the resolution will also help residents understand the reasons for any property tax increase that comes to pass.

Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, said she welcomes input from such municipal resolutions.

“It’s very helpful to us to understand how the budget as proposed impacts any of our communities, and they know better than we do,” Treat said. “There are alternatives out there, and if those are alternatives the communities can help us to identify, all the better.”

Treat and other legislators representing the RSU 2 communities will meet with municipal and school district officials to talk about budget issues at 6 p.m. today at Hall-Dale Elementary School in Hallowell.

The Maine People’s Alliance released a list on Tuesday of 55 municipalities where resolutions are being submitted or have already passed. In addition to Hallowell, the list includes Augusta, Gardiner, Litchfield, Monmouth and Whitefield, but those communities have not taken official action.

Group spokesman Mike Tipping said the group included municipalities such as those because residents volunteered, through the alliance’s website or by contacting a local organizer, to gather signatures in support of a resolution.

Aaron Miller, clerk and administrative assistant for Whitefield, said the town’s selectmen have not made any statement about the budget and he has not heard of any petition efforts.

Rachel Sukeforth, a Litchfield resident who ran as a Democrat for the Maine House last year, said she is just getting a petition started in her town and will submit it for approval by selectmen or at town meeting in June.

Sukeforth said an increase in property taxes would be hard on her neighbors, especially those on fixed incomes, and towns like Litchfield deserve a share of the sales tax that the state typically distributes through revenue sharing.

“As local, small communities, we spend a lot of money actually outside of our towns,” she said. “The tax dollars that we give in the form of sales tax, it’s important that it comes back to our communities.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
smcmillan@mainetoday.com

click image to enlarge

Hallowell Mayor Charlotte Warren speaks during a Maine People's Alliance event on Tuesday in the State House's Hall of Flags in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Pins on the map mark cities and towns that passed resolutions opposing the state budget during a Maine People's Alliance event on Tuesday.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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