WATERVILLE — Mayor Karen Heck said Thursday she will not sign the $37.2 million municipal and school budget because she wants to call attention to the fact that the state cut revenue sharing to towns.

City councilors took two final votes on the 2014-15 budget, which includes a controversial pay-as-you-throw trash disposal system, on June 3. The budget will take effect without the mayor’s signature.

“The constant shifting of the state’s financial responsibilities to the towns and cities, while slashing revenue sharing and cutting taxes, is irresponsible,” Heck said Thursday in an email to the Morning Sentinel. “Whatever minuscule tax relief the state has provided is a drop in the bucket compared to the increase in property taxes we’ve experienced.”

Heck, who has long criticized the state for cutting revenue sharing to municipalities, said she appreciates the hard work city and school officials did crafting the budget.

“While it’s not the budget I would have wanted, there were long hours, many nights and compromise that went into accomplishing the finished product.”

Heck has fought over the last three years to add a police officer to the budget, but has not been successful.

She said in her letter that the city, for the most part, is safe because of police efforts, but there are too many times the force is stretched thin and there are too many children living in unsafe situations.

“The addition of a police officer to focus on the South End, a neighborhood that used to have an officer and one that has been asking for another one, would be an opportunity to prevent problems before we have to pay even more for solving them. We owe that to ourselves and to the children in this city.”

The $37.2 million budget includes a pay-as-you-throw trash program and does not increase the $27.40 tax rate.

City Manager Michael Roy said in an email Thursday that he agrees with everything Heck said in her letter.

“I appreciate the effort she has put in on highlighting the injustice done to cities and towns with the revenue sharing reductions orchestrated by the governor and approved by the legislature over the past few years.”

But Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, said if he were mayor, he would have signed the budget because most of the councilors approved it. He and Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, were the only councilors to vote against the budget, and they did so because they oppose the trash program.

“Karen (Heck) obviously has a problem with state government because we’ve been getting lots and lots of lectures about the state not fulfilling their financial obligations,” Stubbert said Thursday in a telephone interview.

Rancourt-Thomas said she understands what Heck is doing by not signing the budget and she appreciates Heck’s effort, but state government cannot solve all Waterville’s problems.

“People have to look beyond Augusta,” Rancourt-Thomas said in a telephone interview. “My personal opinion is, instead of looking at Augusta to solve our problems, let’s ask ourselves why Colby College, Thomas College and other private institutions are not paying their fair share of services that they have access to because they’re tax exempt. Instead, they let it fall upon the backs of the taxpayers of Waterville.”

Rancourt-Thomas said colleges help the city by sending students into the community to help on cleanup days and to tutor young children and do other activities, but the colleges do not pay taxes.

“Can you imagine if Colby paid taxes to the city?” she said. “We wouldn’t be in this financial situation. Waterville would be a thriving, robust city.”

Heck’s letter asks if the entire cost of plowing roads, making sure streets are safe and ensure parks are available to the 15,000 people who come to the city daily to shop, be entertained and go to appointments, be paid by Waterville property taxpayers.

“Is keeping the city’s infrastructure strong more equitably supported by taxes paid by everyone through state income and sales taxes, both of which are the source of the revenue sharing we’ve lost,” the mayor’s statement said.

Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, said he agrees with Heck.

“I don’t disagree that we’ve been shortchanged by the state, by the government, in terms of revenue sharing,” he said in a telephone interview. “Unfortunately, that’s what’s forced us to cut where we can, and we were only able to get a flat budget this year because we’re doing pay-as-you-throw, which may last a year and get thrown out.”

“I agree with Karen that we need to get the legislatively mandated revenue sharing because it is the only way we can make things work and unfortunately, that may mean a change of the executive (governor) in November, but we’ll see.”

Heck said she hopes people will understand the need for change at the state level when they vote in November.

“We need a commitment from the governor and the Legislature in keeping our cities strong so that we can continue to be the economic engines we are. Waterville is a fabulous city and I want it to be that way far into the future,” Heck said. “A budget is how the community plans for the services that we all use and need now and in the future. I want the taxes that support that budget to be ones that are collected equitably.”

City Solicitor William Lee said Thursday that a mayor has 10 days to sign a budget or return it and if she does nothing, it goes into effect.

“Silence is acceptance,” he said.

Lee said this is a first for Heck.

“I am not aware of her allowing an action of the council to become final without her affirmative approval,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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