'Bad financing': Divided Harpswell selectmen oppose LePage budget

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HARPSWELL — The town may have just approved a $4.26 million budget, but the final word on combined municipal and school appropriations will be left to state legislators as they mull Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget proposal.

That’s why the Board of Selectmen voted 2-1 on March 14 for a resolution opposing LePage’s proposed $6.3 billion budget, which would suspend $283 million in municipal revenue sharing, and shift other costs to local communities, schools and property owners.

The formal resolution will be sent to the LePage administration and Harpswell’s legislators. The board previously sent LePage and legislators a letter in opposition to the proposed budget.

Board Chairwoman Elinor Multer, who was reappointed to her leadership post, proposed the resolution. She said she is willing to make cuts in local services to offset any potential shift in costs to local taxpayers, but nevertheless called the proposed state budget “bad financing.”

“I’m very unhappy with the governor’s proposed budget, not for the cut in dollars, but for the shift in taxes that’s happened over the few years, mostly from the income tax,” Multer said, adding that surrounding communities will take a larger hit from LePage’s proposed cuts.

“And nothing realistic says to me that those towns are going to be able to survive with 100 percent of those cuts,” Multer continued. “So what’s going to happen is the burden in those towns of whatever amount is going to be shifted to the property tax, and I consider the property tax a less much fair tax than either the income tax or the sales tax.” 

Newly elected Selectman Rick Daniel supported Multer.

“I’d like to say I feel we need to push back,” Daniel said. “… The cuts that are happening at the state level are being asked to be made at the local level.”

Selectman Alison Hawkes opposed the measure, just as she did in January when the board approved sending its letter about LePage’s budget.

“I just think that towns need to do a better job of budgeting and I think that we have gotten to a point in the times that we’re giving so many services away that we can’t afford it,” Hawkes said, acknowledging that her family has benefited from local services. “… There needs to come a time that people need to be more responsible to what we give away, and I would be more for the cuts than shifting it to any sort of taxes.”

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said if many of LePage’s proposed cuts remain when the biennial state budget is enacted, the town could have to curtail some of its spending. It could also use the town’s fund balance to offset some of that impact.

LePage has said that communities have a choice of whether they want to cut services or shift costs to taxpayers.

Eiane said the town’s projected 2013 revenue from the state’s revenue-sharing program is down a third from last year’s, to $80,000.

And because the town bases its budget on the calendar year, Eiane said the town expects around $50,000 in revenue by June, the end of the state’s 2013 fiscal year.

According to the Maine Municipal Association, the town could potentially lose more than $109,000 in revenue sharing for the 2014 fiscal year.

“We have to wait and see with the state budget,” Eiane said. “We’re hoping there will be some compromise.”

According to early projections, Harpswell’s share of the School Administration 75 fiscal 2014 budget could increase by $127,000. The final SAD 75 budget will go to referendum in June.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.