Limestone must assess Loring properties before it votes on mill rate

9 months ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Limestone will need to assess more than 50 properties at the former Loring Air Force Base before setting the mill rate, according to the town’s tax assessor.

Prior to Green 4 Maine LLC purchasing 450 acres, Loring Development Authority owned the entire 3,800-acre Loring Commerce Center, which opened after the base closed in 1994. Since state law designates Loring Development Authority as a “public municipal corporation,” the town could neither assess the tax values of Loring buildings nor receive tax revenue from them.

But now the town can tax any property that Green 4 Maine owns, since Loring Development Authority is no longer in charge of the maintenance and development, said Brandon Saucier, Limestone’s tax assessor.

On Wednesday, Saucier told the Select Board that he initially believed Green 4 Maine owned 26 buildings on their acreage. But after measuring Green 4 Maine’s buildings, that number became higher than he expected.

“There’s at least 52 to 55 out there,” Saucier said. “I’m working to get the final sketches completed and figure out their square footage.”

After that, Saucier will have a better idea of Green 4 Maine’s property values and the town can use that information to calculate a potential mill rate. Saucier said he hopes to give the town information on potential mill rates by early October and send tax bills to residents the second week of that month.

Limestone’s mill rate was 28 mills per $1,000 of property value in 2022. This summer, officials projected that the town’s budget could increase that rate by six mills, but that was before they were aware of all the properties Green 4 Maine owns.

Saucier also recommended that the town pursue a full property tax revaluation within the next two years. 

The town has not had a full revaluation in 22 years, even though the state requires revaluations every 10 years. That means some residential and commercial property owners could be paying more or less than what they should, Saucier said.

Some Aroostook towns have opted for a market rate adjustment instead, which focuses only on updating home values based on what homes are selling for on the market. Saucier said that market adjustments do not always create equity in home values.

“You could have two ranch-style homes, but one might get valued higher than the other,” Saucier said.

The town’s reliance on handwritten tax cards instead of a digital software would also make a market rate adjustment more time consuming and difficult, Saucier said. He recommended that the town consider installing TRIO before taking on a full revaluation. Many towns use TRIO as their tax assessing software, he said.

The Select Board agreed to pursue a full revaluation of town properties and said that putting out a request for proposals for revaluation services would be the next step.

In other business, the Select Board received public comments on potentially selling or leasing Trafton Lake Campground to a private investor. 

This season, the campground has taken in $12,000 and spent $26,000. The town has also struggled to find someone to oversee Trafton during the May to October camping season, leading to a lack of oversight.

Town officials found out recently that in August a camper allegedly used $28,000 in electricity. Select Board Chair Randy Brooker and resident Chuck Kelley found out from Versant Power that there are no issues with the company’s meters, which means the problem likely came from someone’s electricity usage, Brooker said.

The campground has also failed state health and safety inspections. The state could shut the campground down in 30 days if the town does not present a plan of action, said Interim Town Manager Alan Mulherin.

Board members and residents agreed that Trafton is costing the town too much money for little financial reward and that the town might be better off exploring other options.

“We think that if Trafton went to a private investor, it could be monitored better,” Brooker said.

Resident Jo-Ellen Kelley said that leasing the campground could allow the town to still maintain the lake and grounds as a family-oriented recreational site.

“At least the town would still get income from Trafton,” Jo-Ellen Kelly said.

Trafton Lake spans 85 acres while the campground is another 49 acres. The current tax value is $50,000, Mulherin noted.

Lam said that he would attempt to contact potential investors so that the town could further explore leasing or selling the property.

The Select Board also spoke to Danny Gahagan, a member of Limestone’s recreation committee, about potential next steps for expanding recreation programs for children.

Limestone has not had a full-time recreation director in two years, and residents voted in June to cut that department’s budget again. The $62,000 budget leaves little room for a full-time director and the Select Board’s attempts to find a part-time director have not been successful.

That means the all-volunteer recreation committee has been responsible for any programs, mostly soccer and basketball, Gahagan said.

“I think we’re trying to find some guidance. Without a director, we’re just trying to do soccer, basketball, all the things we did as kids,” Gahagan said. “We’re a group of parents trying to keep things going.”

Alvin Lam, the town’s special projects manager, said that he and the recreation committee would explore potential partnerships with other towns, which could involve transporting Limestone children to various programs.

The next regular Limestone Select Board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at the town office, located at 93 Main St.