Opinion

Time to catch up

Where has the time gone since my last update? I knew I needed to get back in touch with readers when my Uncle Frank called from Illinois and asked if everything was OK since there was no “Community Connections” article for June. 

Things are busy this time of year as the department prepares for the annual commitment of property taxes and the mailing of the property tax bills. Some processes were modified this year due to the state of emergency and the physical distancing protocols in force in the state. Thank you to everyone for your patience. 

A goal of the department is to ensure that taxes are apportioned in a fair and equitable manner. Tax assessment staff are always looking for ways to broaden the tax base, and several steps were taken this year to update lists of potential taxpayers so that the measure of tax effort is commensurate with the city’s tax capacity. 

A project to assist business taxpayers with taking advantage of the Business Equipment Tax Exemption program was also completed this year. That endeavor required much taxpayer education since changes in state laws have increased the types of eligible industries. 

Business taxpayers are not the only ones who will see significant tax relief this year. The state legislature increased the amount of the homestead tax exemption from $20,000 in 2019 to $25,000 in 2020. This means that if you had no other changes to your property valuation, the tax bill for your home will be lower in 2020. Caribou saw $3,000,000 of new value in real estate assessments for 2020. Every improvement — from a new deck to a brand-new coffee shop to a potato storage building — expands the overall tax base. I appreciate everyone who invests in their property and our community. 

Have you ever wondered about how your tax bill is determined? The simple formula is “taxes = value multiplied by the rate.” Simply, the amount you pay in annual taxes is determined by two items: the value of your taxable property and the nominal tax rate. 

The taxable value of the property can be reduced if there has been a qualified application for an exemption. Both the taxable and the partial exempt value are components of the calculation to determine the overall valuation on which the tax rate is based. That’s right — since the State of Maine determines the criteria for exemptions it has a statutory obligation to reimburse the municipality for a portion of the revenue lost by administering those exemptions. 

The next item needed is the tax rate — sometimes referred to as a mill rate or millage rate. The rate is budget-based; this means the rate is not fixed in legislation, but instead based on the amount of revenue required. The formula for this is: “rate = expenses (local appropriation, county portion, school portion) minus any other revenue (like revenue sharing and excise tax), divided by the total assessed value of our city. 

Caribou has a compound rate, meaning it includes the annual amount for the city as well as the city’s portion for Aroostook County budget and the RSU 39 school budget. State statute requires that the city collect these amounts, and it also requires that the percentage of local property taxes distributed to education and to local and county government be included on the bill when a property tax bill is issued to a taxpayer. Interesting note: The state of Maine does not require that a tax bill be issued but Caribou provides one as a community service. 

Another recent project is the Blight Toolkit. In January, the Caribou City Council aspired to build upon the report given at the Dec. 9, 2019, meeting by the Citizens Advisory Board for Residential Rural/Urban Renewal and develop a comprehensive strategy for combatting blight in Caribou. A citizen committee was formed with several members of city staff as advisers. The group was able to meet four times before physical distancing protocols were established. 

All committee members had research assignments. Caribou Zoning Administrator/Code Enforcement Officer Ken Murchison had the task of driving by every structure in Caribou to determine a blight score from criteria developed by the group. City Manager Dennis Marker was able to synthesize all of the contributor information into an easy-to-understand document that will be released after the Caribou Planning Board and the Caribou City Council provide input. This toolkit will benefit Caribou citizens by identifying where the blighted properties exist, defining factors that contribute to blight, discussing the legal regulatory framework for municipal actions, using resources available to implement operations, monitoring outcomes as an indication of progress, recognizing the stakeholders in the community who can help and addressing blight by undertaking specific tasks. 

In an effort to put all the components together, there is a section on specific blight scenarios. Please check it out and let us know how you can help with the blight fight. The report will be available online at: www.cariboumaine.og > Living in Caribou > Blight Initiative > Caribou Blight Toolkit 2020. 

If you are planning a trip to the City Office before Aug. 3, please wish Caribou City Clerk Jayne Farrin “happy retirement” as her last workday is Monday Aug. 3, after more than 13 years serving the citizens of Caribou. 

And as always, if you have any questions about tax assessment, permits or the campaign to fight blight in Caribou, please call me at (207) 493-5961 or send me an e-mail: pthompson@cariboumaine.org. I am grateful every day to be in your service.

Penny Thompson is Caribou’s tax assessor and building official.  

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