Revenue sharing dominates Union informational meeting
Union — Revenue sharing was the high priority topic during the 4th annual informational meeting Feb. 26 in Union.
Approximately 40 residents met with Town Manager Jay Feyler and members of the Board of Selectmen to discuss the state of Union.
"Most people do not understand revenue sharing and what it is," Feyler said in a recent town newsletter. Many states have local sales and income taxes, but Maine does not allow that," Feyler added. Back 50 or so years ago the Maine Legislature agreed to have the state collect all sales and income taxes and reimburse towns 5 percent of those collected taxes based on population."
"As state revenues increased so did revenue sharing, but when times were bad revenue sharing was reduced to reflect the same," Feyler said.
However, with the state unable to balance its budget, "it has raided from revenue sharing," he said.
This means there will most likely be a tax increase on local property owners.
In addition to this, "the state has proposed a number of municipal raids, including taking your excise tax money, eliminating the homestead exemption and many other backdoor raids on your funds," Feyler told residents.
Select board member Greg Grotton reiterated information received from a meeting with Sen. Ed Mazurek, D-Rockland and Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship held in Union Feb. 25.
"They are trying to shift the burden from the state to local towns," Grotton said.
The proposed general fund budget from Gov. Paul LePage would have more than $425 million impact on property taxpayers and municipal budgets, officials said at the meeting.
The breakdown for Union would be approximately $400,000, meaning a $400 to $500 increase in taxes for the average homeowner.
Also brought into the equation is shifting teacher retirement to the towns, in the amount of $29 million and reducing funding to school districts in the amount of $25 million.
Resident Mike Arbour expressed concern over how funding works between public and charter schools.
"Is money being taken away from public schools when a student attends a charter school?" he asked.
Feyler said, "It does affect the school's budget."
"Aren't there laws covering revenue sharing?" asked resident Lawrence Nash. The answer was yes. "But they don't abide by it," Nash continued. "They haven't honored their promise to the schools," he added, referring to funding 55 percent of kindergarten to 12th-grade education.
"Someone's got to hold their feet to the fire," Nash said. "I've been there (Augusta)," he said. "It's like talking to the wall."
Resident Dave Schaub suggested a class action suit. "Is there an organization with legal depth we can go to?" he asked.
Feyler said, "The Maine Municipal Association is as good as we've got. They are owned by you [taxpayers]."
Grotton then brought up LD82, which was "An Act To Establish a People's Veto Process for Actions of County Commissioners". Grotton, who stated he is a firm believer of "we the people," said the bill "was killed on Feb. 23 by a vote of 2-1."
"There is recourse," Grotton stated. "Other counties have it in their charters."
Grotton explained taxpayers could have used this legislation "when 'supreme beings' found money in the Knox County budget last year to give some a 40 percent pay raise."
Another example he gave was the proposed "$3 million to build a road around Owls Head airport." The proposed road "would parallel a civilian road currently there," he stated. A stop sign would be the only difference.
"That's our county commissioners working for you," he said.
Jim Murphy, town assessor agent, gave an update. He said, "We are going to lower the land value in Union" due to the soft market.
With only a couple land sales in the last three years, and six buildings being torn down, Murphy said, "people are waiting for the next 'big' thing."
He stated, "I don't see appreciation in this area for at least a decade."
The Board of Selectmen are seeking volunteers to assist in the planning of its annual Founders Day event. For the past several years, board members have handled all the affairs, however many are unable to dedicate the time to it any longer. Anyone interested should contact Jay Feyler or a board member.
The meeting lasted an hour and a half.
Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.