“The forgotten man … He works, he votes, he generally prays, but his chief business in life is to pay.” – William Graham Sumner

Recently there has been much ado about municipal budgeting in Waterville. Thanks to a recent (and long overdue) property revaluation, the forgotten man has been awakened.

This year city leaders spent several months reviewing a budget, making cuts and recognizing revenues in order to pass the first tax cut in years, albeit mostly symbolic.

Then, hours before the final vote on the budget we learned through emails, phone calls and other messages that many of our residents were seeing increases of 30 to 40 percent or more in their values. Later we learned that not only was this going to affect the majority of residential homeowners, but that the city’s mil rate would not, as some had predicted, fall to 20 or 21. Instead the rate would only drop to $24.5 per $1,000 of property, leaving Waterville with one of the highest tax rates in the state.

Although the information was coming out fast and furious, the one thing I felt in my heart was the right thing to do — and I still believe this today — was to issue a veto and find out why our mil rate didn’t drop more, and how we can find a way to work to protect our homeowners, many of whom are middle class families just getting by or elderly residents on a fixed income.

We know the stories from the following weeks and what has occurred procedurally since then in city government. It appears we’ll be going back to the books to kick off what will be a multi-year strategy to finally lower the tax burden in the city of Waterville.

If you want to know why we are opening the budget again you can thank a group of motivated citizens who on Facebook refer to themselves simply as “Waterville Budget Repeal.” I’ve spoken to some of the members of this group and I have been amazed. Made up of Democrats and Republicans, residents and business owners, old and young, a bipartisan initiative has at the time of this writing collected almost 600 signatures in only three days, and they aren’t stopping. Last week in the brutal heat of a late July day one volunteer came to my home, and Amanda and I happily signed the petition (they can also be signed at City Hall).

As was pointed out in a recent editorial by the Morning Sentinel, Waterville’s problems go back decades and spring from a collapse of manufacturing, decreasing revenues from the state, and increased spending by city government.

Enter the “forgotten man.” As William Sumner pointed out in the late 19th century, the forgotten man is every man or woman who works to make their living while being both ignored and used by government to pay to fix problems that someone else decided needs fixing.

As I travel around the city I hear the same story over and over again. An elderly widow isn’t sure she can pay the oil bill along with her new increased property tax. A disabled veteran and single parent wonders if they made the right choice when they bought their home. A young couple realizes they no longer have room for when the car needs repairs.

It is immoral to impoverish people by taxation.

These aren’t people who are looking for a handout. They aren’t looking for any attention at all, but they are the most important asset Waterville and every other city and town has. They are the people who live, work and die in our communities, and they pay from start to finish.

Waterville’s way to lower tax rates will only be solved when we continue to focus on building our tax base and working with partners to attract new jobs, a process that is well underway. We also need to take an honest assessment of what services make sense and changes we can make to how we do business.

In the meantime however, we must reign in our budget and no longer forget that somewhere there is a real human being who is paying for our decisions.

The job of municipal government is straight forward: educate our youth, pave and plow the streets, and adequately respond to emergencies. Whatever falls outside this realm should be scrutinized, along with our essential business models.

The group of citizens circulating the petition should make us take note. The forgotten man has made himself known.

Nick Isgro is the mayor of Waterville.