NORTH YARMOUTH — This winter, we’ve seen brutal temperatures and many snowstorms. We’ve all had our share of rough experiences with cracking roads and potholes, thanks to the winter weather. Can you imagine if our communities weren’t able to deploy public workers to clear the snow and lay down sand and salt or emergency personnel to respond to mishaps?

We might take these services for granted. Let’s not forget that our towns and cities must find ways to pay for services like these as well as for our schools.

Maine towns rely on the longstanding practice of revenue sharing, where the state gives back some of the revenue it receives from property and sales taxes each fiscal year. Revenue sharing provides critical funds that help keep property taxes in check for young families, the elderly on fixed incomes and small businesses.

Maine made the pledge to share with communities in this way more than 40 years ago.

It’s an arrangement that recognizes that towns and cities provide the services that support Maine’s economy. From strengthening roads for businesses to deliver goods, to pumping clean water and maintaining public health and safety, towns and cities play a critical part in helping Maine as a whole.

Over the past few years, towns across Maine have seen the amount they receive from revenue sharing decline steadily. This has put added stress on local governments.

The Legislature passed a budget compromise last session that prevented revenue sharing from being cut completely, as Gov. Paul LePage initially proposed. However, communities still saw a $30 million decrease from the year before.

Municipalities are supposed to get $61 million in 2015, but if the Legislature doesn’t act, they will lose another $40 million. This would be a catastrophic blow to municipal budgets across the state. Local governments face two options: either significantly reduce or eliminate already-strained services, or raise property taxes to make up for the loss.

Across Maine, cities are facing drastic cuts: $2.6 million in Portland, $1.7 million in Lewiston, $1.4 million in Bangor, $996,000 in Auburn, $795,000 in South Portland and $728,000 in Biddeford. And the list goes on.

Smaller communities are also threatened. Town budgets are already strained, and homeowners, especially those on fixed incomes, shouldn’t have to shoulder the additional burden. The towns I represent – Gray, North Yarmouth and Pownal – stand to lose more than $295,000 in all.

I’ve served on the North Yarmouth Selectboard. I know how difficult it is for local officials to make cuts in light of shrinking revenue sharing. I know how damaging it is for towns to have to choose between cutting emergency services, decreasing support to schools or having their residents pay higher property taxes.

If revenue sharing shrinks again, the impact will only get worse.

Cuts to revenue sharing shift costs to working Mainers and small businesses. At a time when Maine is still working its way out of the recession and many Mainers are still struggling to stay afloat, property tax hikes would stunt progress for many local economies.

That’s why the chairs of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, and Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, have submitted a bill to make sure communities and their local property taxpayers get that $40 million in revenue sharing.

Without the bill, Maine communities could lose more than 60 percent of already-reduced revenue sharing in place for their local budgets for the 2015 fiscal year. The $40 million in question includes property tax reduction of $10.8 million for local commercial property owners and $29.2 million for residential property owners.

Towns and cities across Maine rely on these vital funds to keep local economies moving forward. As Maine begins to ride the national wave of slow but steady economic recovery, we must make sure we do not hinder its progress through cuts to revenue sharing.

These kinds of cuts to revenue sharing should not be options for balancing the budget. To cripple community budgets would only stagnate local economies, resulting in the need to make further cuts in the following years.

As the second session progresses, maintaining already-reduced levels of revenue sharing will be front and center. I look forward to working with fellow lawmakers to make sure Maine supports its cities, towns, middle class and small businesses.

— Special to the Press Herald