Mazurek, Evangelos hear concerns at Union forum
Union — State Sen. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland and Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship sat down with constituents Feb. 25 in Union to hear their concerns about Gov. Paul LePage's proposed budget.
With many municipalities gearing up for annual town meetings and budget proposals and the governor discussing his proposed budget, those attending talked about the impact the governor's proposal would have on property owners.
It would have more than $425 million impact on property taxpayers and municipal budgets, according to a handout provided at the meeting.
— $280 million by eliminating revenue sharing (portion of sales and income taxes paid to towns)
— $82 million by eliminating property tax relief programs for anyone under the age of 65
— $29 million by shifting costs for teacher retirement to the towns
— $25 million by reducing funding to school districts
— $12 million by eliminating the Business Exemption Tax Reimbursement program and placing limits on the Business Property Tax Exemption program to manufacturing
— $8 million by reassignment of truck excise tax revenues away from towns to the State Highway Fund
About 20 residents attended the meeting, which lasted about an hour.
Dairy farmer Lee Houghton of Union lashed out at the legislators.
"All you think about is how you're going to raise taxes," he said. "Print more money is government's solution, now we're broke."
After a couple verbal exchanges, Mazurek countered by stating, "I agree with you," regarding concern about proposed property tax increases. "I'm a homeowner. I pay taxes just like you," Mazurek said.
Mazurek said he believes state revenue sharing should be maintained.
"Property tax is the most disliked tax in the state," he said. "It unfairly falls directly on the property owners. Some communities are at their breaking point right now and we're going to have to look at this very carefully."
Evangelos further explained there is a major shift going on, which could have a devastating impact on towns, small businesses, middle class, elderly and the poor. The proposed property tax shift "impacts school districts especially," Evangelos said.
"The schools want more money," Houghton said.
School Administrative District 40 Board Member Ann Donaldson interjected, "We proposed a zero percent increase and we've succeeded." She added, "With the declining population, we are still cutting."
During district budget preparation school officials included the towns' share of what the state pension should be, she said.
"If it does get paid, we'll be in an even better position," Donaldson said.
Most municipalities hold town meetings and approve their annual budgets in March and April. However, the state budget is not due until July. This process contributes to them going in blind as to actually how much the state will be contributing to them, Evangelos explained.
"Municipalities are going to have to raise the property tax or end up with less. Services are still provided by the municipalities, but the state is keeping the money," Evangelos said.
Hearings on the governor's proposed budget begin March 11 in Augusta. The process will take three to four weeks. Evangelos said under normal circumstances he would advise constituents to write to their legislators regarding their concerns.
"Now they need to see your faces and hear your voices," he said. "There are a lot of things they are trying to take away," Evangelos said. "Fill the hall and make a point," he said.
Mazurek will hold a second meeting in Rockland Thursday, Feb. 28, at 6 p.m. at city hall. It will be co-facilitated by Rep. Elizabeth Dickerson, D-Rockland, Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston and Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport.
Courier Publications reporter Beth Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.