(The Center Square) – The ripple effect of the COVID-19 economic downturn could lead towns across Maine to propose raising property taxes to cover revenue losses.
Without additional aid from state or federal stimulus funding, it could be the only choice, the Portland Press Herald reported.
“It’s actually heart-wrenching and something committee members have lost sleep over,” said Peter Bragdon, who is chairman of the town budget committee in New Gloucester, where an 8 percent hike in property taxes is possible, along with eliminating staff.
Maine’s U.S. Senators, Susan Collins-R, and Angus King-I, have said they are discussing possible solutions in Washington.
“One in six Mainers is employed in the public sector,” Collins said while speaking on the Senate floor last month. “Maine communities tell me that they will have no choice but to either increase property taxes at the worst possible time for working families or eliminate first responder jobs and slash education funding if they do not receive help.”
Maine has received $1.25 billion through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, for expenses related to the coronavirus. Gov. Janet Mills said last week that $13 million of it would be sent to municipalities to cover pandemic-response costs.
The announcement followed pressure from a number of Maine mayors who urged Mills to disburse funds similar to how other states have. In New Hampshire, $40 million is being distributed to cities and towns. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said $300 million of that state’s CARES Act funding would be for municipalities.
Mills has said more guidance is needed from the federal government on how the money can be used.
No matter what approach towns use, the impact of the virus is affecting budgets in unprecedented ways, Eric Conrad of the Maine Municipal Association told the Herald.
“There have been numerous towns with no increases,” Conrad said. “Yet, some have approved increases. Others are trying to wait a few months to get as clear a picture of revenues as they can.”