Waterville’s public institutions and those who work in them deserve thanks and praise for the amazing job that they are doing to contribute to our city being an exceptionally wonderful place to be. I’m going to mention three in particular.
First is the Parks and Recreation Department that does so much to enable all of us to get out and be active. They are doing a fantastic job creating and maintaining public spaces that help us to be healthier.
Second is the Waterville Public Library. Whether by connecting employees to employers, patrons to information, or community members with other community members, they are doing a fabulous job helping us to be a better connected and more robust community. And they are receiving national recognition for it. Finally, I’ll mention the Waterville public schools, which are doing a magnificent job preparing the city’s children for lives as contributing and productive members of our society and helping make our future as a community as bright as it can be.
In these three areas, as in many other capacities, Waterville is punching way above our weight class and the result is that we have a city that is a fantastic place to live, work, play, and raise children.
Despite all of these positives, there is a dark cloud on our horizon. In 2009, revenue sharing from the state government was $2.9 million. In 2013, it was $1.6 million. For 2018, it will be further cut to $1.1 million, and if the governor’s proposal is enacted, then in the following year it will be zero.
This is a problem that we cannot solve with budget cuts without losing all that makes Waterville a great place to live. There is no way to cut our way out of that big of a hole. For deeper perspective consider that the difference between our 2009 and 2018 share of revenue is $1.8 million less per year, or $18 million total for that period that the city did not receive. Even if we take account for the economic crisis and use the revenue sharing number from 2010 ($2.4 million) the difference is still a whopping $1.3 million less per year, or $11.7 million less in total.
If we had those resources, then we could have paid for the new boiler for the fire department. We could have paid for the necessary road repairs that we deferred. We could have bought the new police vehicle. The library could still be open on Sundays. We could be funding our schools such that we are not at the very bottom (206 out of 232) in Maine in spending per student, according to the Maine Department of Education.
For added perspective, according to the latest U.S. Census data (2014), Waterville’s current spending per student is slightly less than Kentucky, which was ranked 37th in the nation in spending per pupil. When compared to the 2013 data, Waterville is losing ground, while for both years the state of Maine held steady at 15th.
The short version — we’re in a steady race for the bottom in the country. Our public institutions deserve our support. Waterville’s future is worth investing in.
I urge our citizens and state legislators to stand firm against offloading onto property taxes necessary expenditures that could and should be paid for by revenue sharing. In order to insure the present and future health of our community, revenue sharing needs to be restored to its historical level of 5 percent of state revenues.
John Turner is an associate professor and chairman of history at Colby College. He lives in Waterville.