GARDINER — Several residents told city councilors Wednesday night to do whatever they can to avoid raising taxes by the nearly 8 percent that’s been proposed.
The proposed $5,564,117 city budget is up 6.2 percent from the current one. The only change from the budget presentation two weeks ago is that the expected budgets from the school and county are slightly lower than anticipated.
City officials have emphasized that Gardiner has avoided a tax increase as a result of the municipal budget in three of the last four years, but they say it’s impossible to maintain current services without raising taxes next year
Residents at the Wednesday meeting said the taxes are driving people out of their homes and out of the city.
Frank Henry, of Fillmore Place, noted that Gardiner has lost significant population between 1990 and 2010 — 14 percent, according to the U.S. Census.
“What that tells me is people don’t want to move there, they don’t want to live there and businesses don’t want to come here,” Henry said.
The city’s portion of the proposed budget would raise taxes by 5 percent, and the school and county budgets are expected to raise taxes by another 2.5 percent.
The 7.5 percent increase, with the school and county budgets, would raise the current $19.90 per $1,000 of assessed value tax rate to $21.40. That represents a $220 increase for the median home’s tax bill in Gardiner. The median home value is $147,000.
Councilor Phil Hart, one of the council’s more fiscally conservative members, said he agrees that taxes are too high in Gardiner, and he told residents to suggest ways to save money.
“If people in this city want us to cut taxes, they need to come tell us what services they want us to cut or give up. That’s where we’re at,” Hart said.
Councilor Patricia Hart, no relation to Phil Hart, said she doesn’t think the city can raise taxes as much as City Manager Scott Morelli has proposed.
“I think we’re going to have to take a look at this and see what we can do about it,” she said.
Hart said she didn’t have any specific suggestions, but she thinks the city needs to find ways to cut the budget.
George Trask, a resident and former councilor, suggested a few cuts, including the funding the city provides to the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Gardiner, Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center and Gardiner Main Street, which combined receive more than $100,000
City Manager Scott Morelli said the council has made a commitment over the last few years to keep the city’s tax rate down.
The department requests and fixed-cost increases were about $566,000 more than in the current budget, according to Morelli. The city also will have about $289,000 less revenue compared to the current budget, largely because it took $175,000 from the reserve fund last year and is sustaining a drop of more than $45,000 in state aid, he said.
The budget does include some new expenditures, including nine new chairs for the City Council chambers for $1,800.
Morelli is proposing to raise taxes to cover the $350,000 gap after a mixture of cuts, rejections of budget requests, the use of $90,000 from the reserve and carrying $70,000 for construction on Highland Avenue into next year, he said.