Town Council Statements
Statement on Leadership Transition
Orono Town Council –November 6, 2023
The Orono Town Council has set the following priorities for managing operations and guiding Orono’s search for a new town manager:
Prioritizing Services to Orono Residents: Orono residents should expect seamless access to the municipal services they depend on and value. The Orono Town Council will prioritize the delivery of existing services in its leadership transition planning.
Valuing Orono Municipal Employees: We depend on the professionalism and dedication of municipal staff. The Council values Orono’s employees and commits to maintaining every filled position through the leadership transition and the pay and benefits authorized for employees in the FY 2024 Town Budget.
Continuity for Community Priorities: The work of Orono continues. The Council will work diligently with citizens and staff to maintain ongoing initiatives.
An Open, Citizen-engaged Search: Your voice matters in Orono. The Town Council will develop and oversee a search for new municipal leadership that will authentically engage Orono citizens and adhere to a very high standard of transparency.
June 9, 2023
ORONO TOWN COUNCIL STATEMENT
An Orono Values Budget for Fiscal Year 2024
Citizen Primer on Council Developed FY 2024 Budget for June 12, 2023, Public Hearing
BUILDING AN ORONO VALUES BUDGET
The Orono Town Council, staff, and a few citizens have been working since January to develop a budget that funds our community values while delivering value for our taxpayers. Steps include:
- Months of staff work developing 359 pages of detailed budget information;
- Nine public council workshops, hearings, or meetings from April to June;
- Dozens of data requests and hundreds of detailed questions; and,
- June 26 adoption of a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2023.
CITIZEN-INFORMED AND SHAPED BUDGETING
Orono citizens are encouraged to learn more and help Council and staff prioritize the things that matter most to Orono.
Public Hearing – June 12, 2023, at 5 PM: Please join us in Council Chambers or online to learn about the proposed FY 2024 Orono Values Budget and help set our priorities. Additional meetings include:
- June 20, 2023, at 5 PM – Final Committee Meeting on FY24 Budget
- June 26, 2023, at 5 PM – Special Council Meeting to Adopt FY24 Budget
Use the Citizen Comment Form or Council Emails: Please share your priorities and thoughts with council and staff using the comment form or by emailing the Council directly:
Get Caught Up on the Budget Process: Every budget meeting is archived on the Orono Town Council YouTube Channel and budget documents and the timeline can be viewed on the budget webpage:
AN HONEST ASSESSMENT OF HISTORIC DATA AND FISCAL TRENDS
The budget conversation began in earnest in April with the Town Manager and her staff delivering a Current and Expanded Services Budget (CESB) proposal for council consideration and public discussion. The initial proposal captured the costs of a small expansion of services while keeping pace with inflation and our promises to municipal employees.
As Town Manager Sophie Wilson aptly explained in her summary of the CESB, “inflation, supply chain issues, regional workforce demands, and the general cost of doing business continue to increase.”
Consequently, the CESB proposal that started our discussions increased Total Municipal Operating Expenses next year by $1.7 million to $14.9 million – a 12.8% year-over-year spending increase!
Maine’s Consumer Price Index grew by 8% in 2022 and is forecast to grow by another 5.8% in 2023.
Unsustainable Fiscal Trends: The trends perpetuated in the CESB proposal are not sustainable.
- 42% increase in Total Municipal Expense, FY21 - FY24, CESB proposal
- 28.8% increase in Total Municipal Employment, FY 14 - FY24, CESB proposal
- 17% increase in Total Municipal Tax Assessment, FY21 - FY24, CESB proposal
State Revenue Sharing Growth is Unprecedented and Over: After property taxes, Orono’s largest source of revenue is State Municipal Revenue Sharing. State revenue sharing has grown from $1.2 million in FY21 to an expected $4.6 million in the upcoming year – a 272% increase over three years.
The Maine Legislature used pandemic and stimulus funding to help incrementally increase revenue sharing from 2% in FY 19 to the program’s statutory cap of 5% for FY23 and FY24.
$61 Increase on Municipal Tax Bill on a $200,000 Orono Home: Despite a 39% increase in revenue sharing, Orono property taxpayers would still have experienced a 3.8% tax increase under the CESB proposal from April. The bill on a $200,000 home taking advantage of the Homestead Exemption would have increased $61 to $1,667 next year to support current and expanded municipal operations.
Municipal taxes account for 35% of the Orono property tax bill. School and county taxes account for 58% and 6%. School and county taxes are slated to grow 5.8% and 2.5% next fiscal year.
PRINCIPLES AND IMPACT OF AN ORONO VALUES BUDGET
Prioritizing Services Orono Values: The Orono Library, Parks and Recreation, Orono initiatives to promote sustainability, belonging, general assistance, public transit, recycling, economic development, and the services available through the town office are all funded as presented in the Continuing and Expanded Services budget presented in April. Please see the budget summary and the FY 24 Budget Revision List for the June 12, 2023, Public Hearing.
Investing in Orono Citizenship: The Council is proposing to expand Parks and Recreation by taking on a ski program started by Orono parents last winter. We also plan to provide financial support for the new Caribou Bog Center and establish a small fund to support start-up community programming.
Orono Values our Employees: The Council is preparing to fully fund every filled position in the Orono municipal workforce, maintain every health and wellness program currently available to our employees, and fund all of our obligations under our collective bargaining agreements. We will also plan to spend $121,000 to continue funding a market-based wage adjustment program, wage adjustments agreed to at hiring, and planned promotions.
Winter Walkability: The Orono Values Budget shared by Council will leave two vacant positions in public works open, decreasing staffing year-round and reducing the winter response fleet from five to four vehicles. Council and staff will convene a group of stakeholders this summer to discuss how walkability integrates with Orono’s snow response plans. Council is prepared to fill one of the vacant public works positions with reserve funds if stakeholders determine additional personnel are needed to meet community expectations for winter walkability and biking.
Planning for Orono’s Public Safety Future: Our expectations for public safety are changing, resulting in greater demands for equipment, training, facilities, and personnel. By way of example, employment in our fire department has grown by 41% over the last ten years and the public safety building constructed just 30 years ago is already undersized and outdated. Over the next budget year, we will develop a citizen-engaged vision for Orono’s Public Safety Department and work with all of our stakeholders to identify the resources we need to create belonging and safety for everyone in Orono.
$145 in Municipal Property Tax Savings: The Council and Town Manager will present an Orono Values Budget at the June public hearing that reduces the municipal property tax commitment by $646,000 and limits total municipal expense increases to the 8% rate of inflation from the past year.
Instead of the $61 increase needed to balance a Continuing and Expanded Services Budget, Orono residents can expect tax savings of about $145 next year on a $200,000 home – a tax bill of approximately $1,461 for town services. Orono residents should expect a very small decrease in their property tax bill.
March 6, 2023
ORONO TOWN COUNCIL STATEMENT
Addressing Community Concerns Related to Town Administrative Clerical and Professional Employees Unionization Effort
Orono Town Councilors have a responsibility to not comment in favor of, or in opposition to, the formation of a union by town employees. Maine labor law is clear on this: all Town employees have the right to join or not join a union, free from coercion or intimidation of any kind. However, Council can discuss the process itself. Council has received feedback from community members on this topic, and it’s clear from the content of these messages that there has been miscommunication or misunderstanding of what has happened, and why. Most importantly, there appears to be a mistaken belief circulating that the Town has filed a petition with the Maine Labor Relations Board to prevent Town employees from forming a union, or that the Town is opposing that union.
This is simply not the case.
The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) filed a petition on behalf of a number of Town employees who want to form a union. The makeup of a union–of any union–is guided by State statute and any gray areas are negotiated. This is standard labor relations practice. When a petition like this is filed, the Town is required to respond within a reasonable amount of time, otherwise it forfeits the right to negotiate any aspect of the petition. This particular petition contained several discrepancies that did not align with State law, specifically around what positions can and cannot be included, and whether or not the petitioners had enough community of interest to be included in the same bargaining unit.
The narrative circulating in the community paints the picture of Council ignoring its responsibilities or being left out of the loop, while staff hired an attorney for the express purpose of stopping this union from forming. This is just not the case. The Town’s response was not only standard practice, but we routinely receive legal advice around labor relations, as the Town already includes two other unions.
Legally, Council has no role to play in this stage of the process whatsoever. We do not vote on whether or not to support the formation of a union because, again, we must protect our workers’ rights by remaining neutral and non-coercive. And the Council also doesn’t have the right to intrude on employment and personnel issues; that is outlined in our Town Charter. But most importantly, the Town itself cannot prevent its employees from forming a union; it can only respond to the petition and attempt to negotiate how the union is formed. Ultimately, it will not be the Town Manager or the attorney or the Town Council who decide whether this union exists; it is the decision of the Town’s covered employees and the Maine Labor Relations Board. The Council cannot be involved in this until a union actually exists, at which point it would have a role in the normal bargaining process, as it already does with police and fire.
Finally, there have been accusations from members of the public that our Town Manager is operating in bad faith, attempting to prevent the formation of this union, without Council’s knowledge or consent. This emphatically is not true. We have hired our Town Manager to follow the law; deciding whether or not to follow the law should not be up for a Council vote. The manager’s actions are in keeping with the law and with the job that Council has hired her to do. Furthermore, had the Town Manager not challenged the parts of the petition that don’t align with State statute, she wouldn’t have been doing her job. The narrative that has been circulating is absolutely unfair to her, and the accusations are categorically false.
We believe that people in this community are reasonable. Please do let your voice be heard and your opinions about these important issues be known; but let’s please also engage in thoughtful, reasonable discourse. Let us be respectful of one another, and give each other the grace to allow this process to play out. Most importantly: Let us give each other the benefit of the doubt, that we are all people who care deeply about this community and want what’s best for it.
Signed by a Majority of the Orono Town Council
June 9, 2020
The Orono Town Council condemns police brutality and the systemic racism that disproportionately affects black people in our country.
The murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers has once again highlighted the systemic racism and inequities brought to bear against black people in our country. We offer our condolences to his grieving family and friends, and to those who are feeling pain and powerlessness at yet another senseless death. We, as citizens, should also offer our apology. We should not stand by and allow police brutality and acts of racism to continue in our nation’s police departments. We need to work to achieve justice and equality for all. We need to restore trust between the public and the police.
As Councilors, we understand that being a Police Officer is an incredibly difficult job. We ask our police to make split-second decisions between securing the safety of the public and protecting the rights guaranteed by our Constitution. Those who do it well deserve our greatest admiration and respect. But those who do not, those officers who violate their duty to protect and serve, tear at the very fabric of the rule of law which protects all of our liberties.
The Town of Orono is a community of individuals who represent diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. Council values this diversity and has historically taken steps to enact ordinances and set policies ensuring equal protections for all. We are committed to continuing that work.
We stand with those who seek justice and equality for all.
Cynthia Mehnert, Chair
Orono Town Council