AUGUSTA — City officials said Thursday local property taxpayers will be forced to pick up the tab for state cuts to General Assistance.

The proposed $51.5 million city and school budget, which is 2.3 percent higher than the current year’s, would raise property taxes by 3.5 percent, or $872,000.

A major proposed increase would more than triple spending on General Assistance, or welfare, from $123,000 to $455,000 — a $332,000 increase. That increase is to brace for anticipated changes in how the state funds welfare, City Manager William Bridgeo said.

Bridgeo anticipates the city’s General Assistance, or welfare, costs will increase dramatically because of state cuts.

Bridgeo said Gov. Paul LePage has told municipal leaders spending more on General Assistance in response to state cuts is their choice, and municipalities have flexibility in how they spend General Assistance money.

However, Bridgeo insisted at Thursday’s council meeting that flexibility doesn’t exist.


“There is actually almost no flexibility for cities and towns in Maine when it comes to General Assistance,” Bridgeo said. “There are statutes that cities and towns must provide specific levels of General Assistance to any individual in your community who steps forward an makes a request and meets eligibility standards. If they meet the requirements, there is no flexibility.”

Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau said if the state is going to cut funding for welfare, it also needs to change the laws regulating it; otherwise the cost of providing assistance will fall to municipalities, and will be passed on to property taxpayers.

“Just cutting money at one area, and pushing it down to the local level, is not the way to do this,” Bilodeau said.

Councilor Michael Bryon, who is also Litchfield’s town manager, said few people are “gaming” the General Assistance system, and that most users are single parents “looking for a hand up, not a handout.”

The city’s $23.2 million share of the budget is up $1.2 million, or 5.5 percent, over the current year, although that increase is partially offset by $777,000 in anticipated increases in municipal revenues.

One of the largest drivers of the increase in municipal spending is a $623,000 increase in sewer, stormwater and fire protection costs, because of a Greater Augusta Utility District rate increase. The city is the district’s biggest customer.


Bridgeo, however, said that increase will be paid for with proceeds from the city’s downtown tax increment financing district, part of the projected $777,000 increase in revenue.

The Augusta Board of Education approved the school’s $26.8 million share of the budget in March, but the school budget also is subject to approval by city councilors as part of the overall budget.

The council had not taken its first vote on the budget by presstime Thursday.

The school budget also will go to voters in a June 12 citywide budget validation referendum.

The proposed school budget is $106,000, or about 0.4 percent, lower than the current year’s but would require a tax increase of about 2 percent, largely because of decreased revenue.

With the average single-family home in Augusta assessed at about $125,000, the owner of that home would see their tax bill increase from $2,163 to $2,238, or $75, for the year if the budget is approved as proposed.

Bridgeo said councilors are scheduled to take a final vote on the budget May 24.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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