Bridgton out front in call for revenue sharing reform

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer
Bridgton Selectmen are way out front of a statewide lobbying effort by towns to restore fairness in Maine’s Revenue Sharing Program.
The board is inviting elected officials from all over the Lake Region and beyond, as well as area legislators, to a Revenue Sharing Forum they are hosting on Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 6:30 p.m. in the downstairs meeting room of the Bridgton Municipal Complex. The meeting’s intent is to put pressure on the 127th Legislature to pass revenue sharing reforms in the next session that begins in January.
Board members have had an ongoing gripe about the town’s ever-shrinking amount of funding from the state’s revenue sharing program, begun 41 years ago with the intent to ease the burden of state spending on local property taxpayers. Back in the early days, Bridgton received around $450,000 in revenue sharing, an amount that shrank to $188,000 last year and is expected to stay the same for next year.
This fall, led by Selectman Paul Hoyt, they decided to stop griping and take action, and decided a regional summit was a powerful way to go.
To their delight, they learned that the Maine Municipal Association was of a like mind. In the most recent issue of the Maine Townsmen, the MMA announced that the centerpiece of their legislative agenda next session will be the preservation and restoration of the Municipal Revenue Sharing Program.
Town Manager Bob Peabody provided the board with background history on the revenue sharing program to show “how the state has not honored the law” that dictates how revenue sharing amounts are calculated for towns. He was asked to invite Geoffrey Hermann Stearn from the MMA to come talk about the issue and give an overview of the organization’s strategy for reform.
In the Townsman, Hermann wrote, “Revenue sharing is also the policy — the only state policy — that provides some relief to communities with high concentrations of exempt property punching big holes in their tax base.”
He goes on to say, “This policy of sharing has changed since the ‘Great Recession’ of 2008. The last four legislatures and the last two administrations have made it abundantly clear, each more aggressively than the last, that the respect formerly held for the revenue sharing program by previous legislatures no longer exists. Instead of sharing, state government has come to treat the revenue sharing program as a magic ATM machine, the withdrawals from which never have to be repaid.
“The problem is that over the last six years, the governors have proposed and the legislatures have endorsed overriding the law, cutting the distribution to local governments more deeply each year, and using the money to support other state budget priorities.”
Hermann said the MMA is encouraging towns to become active in helping them with an effort to educate busy legislators on the mandate. The MMA will also be putting forth nine legislative initiatives, most of which speak to redesigning or redefining the state/local relationship in various ways.

Please follow and like us: