January 23

Waterville Mayor Heck blasts state aid cut

In remarks to councilors Heck also channels her predecessor, Paul LePage, and shows video of him as mayor in 2009.

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — Paul LePage’s voice filled the City Council chambers Tuesday night even though the man who is now governor of the state was not there.

Mayor Karen Heck was showing a video from April 7, 2009, of a younger, darker-haired Mayor LePage, presiding over a council meeting and blasting Gov. John Baldacci for passing unfunded mandates onto municipalities and further burdening local taxpayers.

“I really believe the people of Waterville and the people of the state of Maine ought to revolt against this administration,” LePage says in the video. “It’s bullshit!”

Heck, a frequent and vocal opponent of LePage the governor, ended the video by saying, “I totally agree with what he’s saying.”

She showed the video to Waterville and Winslow councilors Tuesday night, as well as residents and area legislators, saying LePage is doing the very thing he railed against nearly five years ago.

The city has been losing more and more state revenue sharing each year — money to which the city is entitled — and is in danger of losing more, Heck said.

Legislators at the State House on Wednesday heard testimony from municipal officials and business leaders on a proposal that would eliminate or reduce $40 million worth of tax breaks and economic development incentives, preventing an equal cut in revenue sharing to cities and towns. Heck was among those who lined up to testify before the Appropriations Committee Wednesday.

Heck told councilors Tuesday night that the city of Waterville and other communities take a hit each year because the state passes its responsibilities onto municipalities. In 2008, the city got $2.9 million in revenue sharing, and last year, projections were that the city would get only $1 million, she said.

If the state does not give Waterville the money it is due, residents will have to pay higher property taxes, Heck said.

“If they take that money away that they actually promised us at the end of the year, we’ll only get $336,000, down from $1 million, down from $2.9 million in 2008,” Heck said.

The city, which generates a lot of revenue for the state, is a service center that provides police, fire, emergency and other services for nonresidents, she said. People complain about high property taxes, but the city provides services such as trash pickup, that other towns do not, she said.

Meanwhile, the city has saved money by consolidating services with other towns, sharing positions and equipment and cutting jobs, according to Heck.

“We’ve shared a lot of things; there are very few things that are left to cut,” she said.

Heck has long urged that a fairer way to assess taxes for residents is through increased sales and lodging taxes. “We brand ourselves as vacationland and we’re the cheapest date around.”

She and Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, also complained that federal Title I money, which is intended for children who get free or reduced lunch is being diverted.

“Our education governor is taking from the poor and giving tax breaks to the rich,” O’Donnell said.

State representatives Henry Beck and Thomas R.W. Longstaff, both Waterville Democrats, as well as state Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, and Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, were present Tuesday night.

Winslow Councilor Kenneth Fletcher, a former state representative and former energy policy director for Gov. LePage, urged legislators to say they will not vote for any budget that does not restore revenue sharing to municipalities.

In a discussion about the state’s having increased its revenues in recent years, Beck said the state also has great shortfalls, such as in the state Department of Health & Human Services.

But he said he heard city officials’ message, loud and clear.

“We have three equal branches and we are going to do absolutely everything we can,” he said. “You can count on it.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247 acalder@centralmaine.com Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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