Pink Slips Wrinkle Editor's Brow
June 28, 2007 The Town of Camden is now without local police dispatch, a service now centered at a county-wide dispatch center in nearby Rockland. Camden
The Town of Camden is now without local police dispatch, a service now centered at a county-wide dispatch center in nearby Rockland.
Camden Herald Editor David Grima opines in the most recent issue of the weekly that the town could have a bid a more favorable farewell to the recently unemployed.
No severance pay for three Camden dispatchers who served their town 14, 24, and 31 years and lost their jobs?
Disappointing, to say the least.
One wonders if the dispatchers would have gotten some kind of recognition or severance if they had not waged a public campaign to keep their jobs.
We understand the desire to keep property taxes down, but the least town officials can do is show the dispatchers some sort of appreciation for long years of service at a not-so-glamorous job. We know the taxpayers' pockets are not bottomless, but then again, voters were able to find $75,000 in the undesignated fund balance to pay for some swamp, weren't they?
Efficiency and cost-savings are fine goals, but in our society they both have a tendency to leave human victims in their wake.
It is true that the writing was clearly on the wall for these dispatchers for some time - they knew their jobs could be shortly cut. There was time to prepare to that possibility. Yet there was also hope, right up until that June 13 debate at the town meeting, that they might continue with their work at least for a year or so.
The dance between property taxes and public services found a strong tempo on the editorial pages of the Ellsworth American today.
It's Like Trying to Sculpt Fog
Often lost in understanding the state's commitment to moving toward funding 55 percent of K-12 public education costs by 2009 is the caveat that the percentage goal approved through a statewide referendum would be achieved on a statewide basis, not at a local level. That funding commitment doesn't mean that the state will be picking up 55 percent of costs for all Hancock County schools. What it does mean is that most communities in our region, especially coastal communities, will be paying more - considerably more - than the state pays as public school expenses are allocated between state and local governments.
The Maine Department of Education uses valuations provided by Maine Revenue Services in calculating the local public school cost-sharing formula. Those valuations for Ellsworth increase by more than 20 percent during each of the last two years. At the same time, valuation increases statewide have been up by more than 13 percent. Under the Essential Programs and Services formula used to calculate state school subsidies, these higher valuations are forcing so-called "high-value" communities to fund more and more of their own school costs, which reduces the state's share of local school budgets. The Department of Education estimates that one in five Maine communities is now a "minimum subsidy receiver" because of high local property values. Bar Harbor is already among them, and school officials in Ellsworth see that dubious status as only a matter of time.
In Ellsworth, the 2007-08 school budget that takes effect on July 1 totals $13,914,543. Of that amount, the state is providing $4,040,308, or 29 percent. That amount is $582,142 less than the state provided for the 2006-07 school year, when the school budget totaled $13,411,608 and the state's share was 34 percent. That's due in part to Ellsworth's total valuation increase of 20 percent, from $651,250,000 in 2005 to $781,650,000 in 2006. For 2007, Ellsworth's valuation has surged another 20 percent, to $938,700,000. Looking ahead, the Ellsworth School Department projects that that the local share of the 2008-09 school budget could increase by more than $1 million.
Dwindling enrollments statewide are making a bad situation worse for those communities seeing significant increases in property taxes. While some areas, such as Ellsworth, have seen the school population grow slightly, many of Hancock County's newest residents are aging Baby Boomers and retirees from away who don't have school-age children to enroll in local public schools. Fewer students means less revenue from state subsidies based on enrollment headcounts.
Further complicating the situation is the state's new School Administrative Reorganization law, which is designed to cut administrative costs by reducing the number of school districts statewide from 290 to around 80. The new law gives school districts within Hancock County until Dec. 1 to outline to state education officials in Augusta how they plan to scrap the existing districts and form and fund new districts with enrollments of no fewer than 2,500 students. If approved by the state, those plans will be put to voters in each community affected, with towns that reject the plan facing economic penalties that will further limit state subsidies for their schools.
Beyond that shotgun marriage approach to gaining support for school district consolidation, the law's ambitious timelines call for the new, streamlined school district structure to be up and running by July 1, 2009. Hang on for the ride. At a time when runaway property valuations are converging with a statewide trend of lower enrollments, the Legislature has ordered all but the state's largest communities to dissolve their school districts, to abandon local control of their schools and to start planning new and larger school districts from scratch.
In commenting on the school district reorganization initiative, James E. Rier Jr., director of finance and operations for the Maine Department of Education, recently told an Ellsworth American reporter: "We couldn't have picked a worse time to launch something new."
We couldn't agree more.Prudent use of the public purse also found a perch at the Portland Press Herald:
Renovation may be realistic for city's civic center needs
We can all dream, but in the end our dreams must conform to our means.
The board of trustees of the Cumberland County Civic Center appears to have come to this conclusion with a decision to give serious consideration to renovating rather than replacing the facility.
The trustees have awarded a $175,000 contract to a Baltimore architectural firm known for its urban renewal and sports complex designs. Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, and its lead sports facilities architect, Janet Marie Smith, will be asked to bring the 1970s-vintage building up to modern standards.
Nobody thinks it will be an easy task.
The civic center sits on a small, urban patch of land with little room to expand its footprint. Its seating capacity is well below that of competing arenas in Manchester, N.H., and Worcester, Mass. Its bathrooms, locker rooms and concessions are congestion-inducing, to say the least.
For years, the conventional wisdom has been that it would take so much money to update the existing civic center that it made more sense to build a new one.
The problem is that no public entity has been willing to step up to the challenge of funding a new arena, which would require taxpayer money. The county's original decision to sponsor the civic center remains controversial. The city of Portland has too many competing priorities. State lawmakers can't get past their perception of a new arena as a parochial project.
So it appears the idea of building a new facility is off the table. As unfortunate as that may be, at least that fact allows the trustees to turn their attention to the possible.
One task the architects will have is to determine whether the building can, in fact, be upgraded, and that's an important question. If it can, however, then a renovation may prove to best option.
- By: Lorie Costigan