Mil rate down; property taxes up

14 years ago

Houlton officials move to soften impact of state cuts
By Elna Seabrooks
Staff Writer

    HOULTON — Despite efforts of town officials to keep property taxes down with a cut in the mil rate, property owners will still have to reach deeper into their wallets thanks to cuts in the state’s Homestead Exemption.
    According to Houlton Tax Assessor, Laureen Bither, all property owners will see an automatic $65.75 increase on their tax bill. However, she added that each residential property owner may see additional increases depending on facts pertinent to their individual situations.
    Now that the state has cut its Homestead Exemption from $13,000 to $10,000, homeowners will lose the higher deduction and end up paying property taxes based on elevated home values.
    Locally, Houlton has an overall higher town valuation which spreads out the tax burden, thus bringing down individual taxpayers’ costs. With a higher town valuation, the mil rate will drop this year from 19.25 to 18.45.
    The town valuation was $254,783,400 in 2009. It jumped to $292,895,800 for 2010. Bither said that increase of nearly $50 million is due to new property development, a change in the state’s Homestead Exemption and adjustments in land and building cost schedules used to arrive at proper valuations.
    To ease the impact on homeowners losing the higher Homestead Exemption, an amendment to the Roads 2000 Ordinance was introduced at a special meeting of the town council Monday evening. The amendment reduces the Roads 2000 account by $67,000 for 2010 but restores regular funding of one mil in the future.
    Town Manager Doug Hazlett explained that there had been significant progress on sidewalk and road repairs and full funding of one mil would not be needed until next year. Saying the $67,000 would be better applied to the tax process, he added that “tax bills would be worse if [the councilors] did not do this. Although it will not completely offset the gain in valuation and individual tax bills, Hazlett said “it was important to do this.” Councilors approved the measure and adjourned briefly before they took it up as a first reading at the regular council meeting that followed. The public hearing will be on July 26.
    In another tax-related matter, the council authorized the tax collector to accept pre-payment of taxes not yet due or assessed for 2011. Their unanimous approval enables residents to enroll in the tax club and spread out their payments over the year on a monthly basis.
    Also introduced was an amendment regarding the town’s fund balance policy based on a recommendation from the auditor. It calls for a minimum fund balance level, a target level, and a maximum level. Specific actions will be required based on the actual fund balance and the target.
    In other business, the council accepted $1,500 from the U.S. Border Patrol and $1,000 from U.S. Customs and Border Protection toward maintenance and improvements at the firing range which they share with the Houlton Police Department.
    The councilors also accepted $2,755 from the Maine Department of Transportation for the Aroostook Regional Transportation System with no required matching town funds.
    The council also reappointed Dana Delano as chairman of the Board of Assessment Review.
    In his report to the council, Hazlett said he spoke with representatives of Pine Tree Waste and was told that early complaints about not having the new trash bags on Saturdays at the transfer station resulted from an unanticipated shortage in the transition period under the new system. This was partly due to the fact that many residents work during the week and wait until Saturday to dispose of garbage.
    Although some do not like the new process, Hazlett said many do and there is no reason to believe the new process represents a rate increase or that it is more expensive to use the 25-pound bags. Residents are still allowed to weigh their garbage on the scales if they prefer.
    The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 26 at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at 21 Water St.