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Enough is Enough: Lewiston must take a long, hard look at its budget

By Robert E. Macdonald

Mayor of Lewiston

Today in Lewiston we stand at a crossroad. Over the past several years prior city councils, our city administrator, our finance director, our development director and the many entrepreneurs located in the area of upper Lisbon and Main Streets have worked hard to create a vibrant downtown—a downtown that has become a destination.

We have listened to our young professionals; these young professionals represent Lewiston’s future. We have added bike lanes to our streets, nature trails and parks in neighborhoods throughout the city. We are slowly, but steadily, putting into place our Riverfront Plan. The Balloon Festival and the Dempsey Challenge bring thousands of people to Lewiston each year. These visitors spend large amounts of money at local businesses.

The soon-to-be-revived Film Festival put our area on the world map. The Hillside Riders Snowmobile Club and the monthly Lewiston Art Walks serve to showcase our city to people outside of our region.

But now we have reached a point where the gains made over the last several years may stagnate or possibly crumble. This is due to a word that affects federal, state and local governments, a word that affects businesses, families and individuals. That word is budget.

Over the last three to four years, Lewiston’s budget has been tightened. Travel and training have been virtually eliminated. We have underfunded the maintenance of city buildings, which results in greater costs when the defective problems are finally corrected. We are engaged in a game of budget Russian roulette, hoping that Mother Nature will spare us catastrophic weather, problems with our city equipment will not manifest themselves before they can be addressed and the hope we can avoid another major conflagration.

The city council is looking to eliminate all capital items from our operating budget and pay for them from our rainy day fund. This affects the city’s ability to stay on top of things that must be done every year, such as street paving and equipment replacement.

We are looking to use over $2 million from our rainy day fund. Our increased dependence on using this fund to cover expenses makes this an unsustainable level. This falling balance may affect our bond rating. If that happens, then we will no longer be able to use this source to fund city’s needs. This will result in increased taxes in order to pay for these needs or increasing the overall cost of our needs by borrowing the money.

The city council’s mandate of a zero tax increase will cause the city to look very closely at issuing new debt.  Debt must be paid for. Any increase would require additional property taxes.

The future looks bleak. Federal funds have dried up. State funds have dried up. Revenue sharing will not be restored in the near future. Our assessed property values remain stagnant. Lewiston has little construction or business investment. Most of our remaining revenue sources are minor and can’t close these funding gaps.

The school department has used its rainy day fund. It has no unspent funds to carry forward in order to limit the impact of our school budget on the property tax rate.

Our property taxes are high, but without a responsible increase in the next budget we may see either a spike in our property taxes or a noticeable reduction of services—or both—in the future. Lewiston is moving forward. Over the last four or five years we have cut our budget and eliminated personnel while continuing to maintain the same level of service year after year.

In the upcoming budget, we must take a long hard look at where we are and where we want to go. Then we must calculate what it’s going to cost to get there—and fund it. A few pennies saved today may cost us several dollars tomorrow.

 

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2 Responses to “Enough is Enough: Lewiston must take a long, hard look at its budget”

  • Ril'riia Kil'urden:

    Once again Mayor McDonald, you seem to have a very over glorified view of Lewiston on a state and national scale–and now on a global scale. Let’s set some records straight, and I know that while facts seem to upset you (due to that overabundance of experience that has led to a year of this city getting worse financially during your time in office), but really…. Let’s address your assessment that people are coming from far and wide for the museums and film festivals and what not…

    The truth is that you obviously have no idea what the demographics are of visitors to the Lew/Auburn area outside the Balloon Festival–which does not reflect the other events here. Feel free to check with the Lewiston Auburn Museum if you doubt me. I did after our conversation in your office. They were surprised by how many out-of-state visitors you projected–and where they came from. “Just to see the Museum?” I think not Mr. McDonald.

    Moreover, you (along with several Council members) would have had trash strewn vacant lots instead of the St. Lauren’s project creating new and affordable housing, which would give the city a decent amount of help to the face lift downtown needs. It’s no secret that many buildings downtown look decrepit. (Which is what happens when they are.)

    Where are the fines going out to the landlords? Why do landlords only pay a pittance of the fees associated with the demolition of their buildings–buildings they allowed (due to one reason or another) to become dilapidated? And why aren’t you addressing the tax burden of this landlord welfare on citizens?

    Or is it easier to blame the poor when their jobs have been outsourced? You said point blank to me that if I wanted a good job that I should move out of Maine because Maine has no good jobs. That’s not a misquote, nor is it taken out of context. And yet it is the poor who suffer and the poor whom you blame.

    On a state scale, let’s look at some of the numbers. As I mentioned, the fact that no one is addressing that EIGHT state employees make over $150k/annually and that there is an extraordinary amount of state employees making over $100k per year isn’t mentioned. Mary Mayhew of DHHS has an annual salary of $114k, but yes, let’s create political welfare while we blame the poor.

    Forbes has ranked Maine the worst state for businesses for the third straight year (which would be 3/7), yet Auburn seems to be able to attract businesses. Bizrate.com (an independent and nationally respected financial analyst company) has ranked Maine as the 8th worst state for retirees. From 2011 – 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis rated Maine as having the smallest rate of personal income growth (at only 0.3%), which was only out done by South Dakota–which was also the only state to have a negative income growth. And this also comes when prices have continued to skyrocket and rent here rivals Boston and is higher than Pittsburgh, Pa.

    Maine colleges are woefully unequipped as well. Those fabulous free IT courses at CMCC? Well, as I mentioned to you (and Student Services), I had to change my original major of computer forensics because we were being taught on Windows XP–which is a solid decade obsolete. (Yet they were able to recruit students like me and convince us to move to Maine so we could fill class seats and drown in student debt while paying taxes in Maine. . . . .)

    Speaking of taxes, Maine is number 42/50 for local and state taxes, which cost each person an average of $8622 annually. The difference from the national average: +24% according to Wallethub–another respected financial analyst group, and Maine is the 13th worst state for women’s health and reproductive services.

    Again, I know you don’t look at facts. You said as much. Though I found it funny you turned around and wanted facts. I can cite all of my sources. (I’m recognized as being on the Dean’s High Honors list with a 3.8GPA, and am one of the top writers in the criminal justice program.)

    So in the future, before you open your mouth and say something misinformed, or blame the media for distorting your words, I highly suggest you actually look into what you’re talking about.

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