City Councilor Eric Sanders supported of a 2% cost-of-living increase to city employees while deciding the 2019-20 fiscal budget. For him, keeping jobs within the city was the most important part of the process.

“If you're cutting people to make a number, then I don’t think the number's right,” Sanders said.

City councilors wanted to take the initiative ahead of upcoming union talks, during which a raise would have been negotiated anyway, he said.

He compared the city budget to a Rubik's cube and noted how everything needs to come together just right to adequately address city needs, while still being fiscally prudent so taxes aren’t an excessive burden.

“The bill goes out to the taxpayer and we have to balance the needs of the city with the needs of the taxpayer,” Sanders said. “So, it’s never easy.”

Sanders said he was the one who suggested a 10% cut to what city boards and committees initially submitted so councilors didn’t have to consider city staff cuts.

He said the city is not overstaffed or understaffed, and every department is busy. He and other city councilors agreed that losing city workers might put public services at risk.

“I don’t think there’s anybody employed at the city who is not needed already,” Sanders said. “So every employee has a very responsible job.”

Sanders said he is excited about the positive projects and events sprouting in Belfast and hopes the city can continue to grow and add amenities for the public. But the costs of maintaining public services and spaces are always on his mind.

“We’re in a very good time right now for Belfast,” Sanders said. “But we just need to be mindful not to overspend or underspend.”

The City Council had a lengthy discussion July 16 about differences between this year’s budget and the previous year's. City Councilor Mary Mortier described it as the hardest budget to date in her seven years in office.

Councilors managed to keep the mil rate from increasing drastically. The rate increased to 22.9 from 22.7, back to the level it was two years ago. Many councilors expressed grim outlooks for keeping taxes low for future budgets.

Sanders enjoys public comment and complaints because they let him know that people are proud of and concerned for the city.

“When they’re offering an opinion to me or a fear or a question or a thank you, or whatever, it’s because they feel partial ownership of this city,” Sanders said. “And I think that is one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of.”