AUGUSTA — The state budget has a long way to go before it’s finalized in June, local legislators reminded city residents Saturday at a forum designed to educate as well as to solicit cost-cutting ideas.

The four legislators who represent all or part of the city hosted the forum at City Center, attracting 18 people, including several city leaders.

The two-year budget proposal by Gov. Paul LePage contains cuts that would cost the city dearly.

“All in, it would mean about a 20 percent property tax hit if the choice was to fund all programs we currently fund,” City Manager William Bridgeo said. “The average property tax bill is about $2,000, so it would be a $400 increase. That’s a very rough estimate,”

Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro, whose district includes part of Augusta, said the bipartisan delegation sought to talk with residents about the budget’s effects and where changes can be made.

“We’re here to listen more than tell you what’s going on,” Fowle said.

City Councilor Cecil Munson said he had talked on Friday night to residents in the Togus Pond area who said they would have little objection to an increase in the sales tax and the meals-and-lodging tax.

Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, took an informal survey at Saturday’s meeting, in which more than half the attendees said they would be amenable to an increase in those taxes.

However, Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, said he preferred to broaden the tax base rather than increase the sales tax, and that a hearing is set this week on a bill he sponsored to allow the city to charge service fees to tax-exempt entities in the city.

Augusta resident Neill Miner said he would endorse Wilson’s bill. “I ran a nonprofit for years that chose to pay for city services,” Miner said.

City Councilor David Rollins said that because 76 percent of the city’s budget is in fixed costs and public safety, budget cuts are “pushed disproportionately on things that affect the youth of our community.

“It’s very tragic to me if we don’t start looking at what we’re doing to the kids.”

“The governor’s proposal to suspend revenue sharing is pretty darn unpopular everywhere you go in Maine,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, adding, “The challenge we face presents interesting opportunities to rethink the ways we raise our money.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631
[email protected]

 

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