FORT KENT, Maine - When the Town Council sent out estimated tax bills last month based on new land and home valuations, it used a tax rate of $15 per $1,000 of value.
On Monday the council dropped that rate, leaving taxpayers looking at a tax rate of $14 per $1,000 of valuation for this tax year and a slight reduction of those earlier estimates.
But even with that move, many Fort Kent property owners are looking at major tax increases.
“It’ s no secret there’ s been a significant shift in valuations,” said Town Manager Don Guimond. “Land went up across the board.”
Newer and larger homes also went up in valuation, Guimond said.
The townwide revaluation — the first since 1992 — actually began five years ago and just wrapped up earlier this summer.
Guimond admits the timing could not have been worse.
“It’ s a horrible time to be doing something like this with the rising price of fuel and other expenses,” he said. “Five years ago who could predict things would be like this?”
Guimond said the new tax bills run the gamut from some people actually seeing slight decreases to those seeing tax bills rise by thousands of dollars over last year.
Last week nearly 100 taxpayers participated in individual hearings — either in person or by telephone — to appeal their bills.
Some did see slight decreases after their hearings, but many others left disappointed.
“This valuation was done at the top of the housing market,” said Councilor Gilman Caron. “Now that bubble has started to burst.”
In fact, according to Guimond, housing prices are not declining in Fort Kent. Rather, there are significantly fewer homes selling.
“The whole scary part of all of this is the future makeup of Fort Kent could change,” said Councilor Paul Berube. “Your real estate now will not be bought and sold by locals, but will be sold to outsiders and that will create a very different future for Fort Kent.”
Guimond blames the high cost of construction materials for driving up the valuations and costs of homes.
“I don’ t like to use the from Fort Kent or not idea,” he said. “As far as I’ m concerned you are from Fort Kent if you’ ve been here all your life or just one day.”
As for changes to the population landscape, Guimond said, he sees more of the older homes being sold to younger people as starter homes.
“The market for these older homes will become better and more affordable,” he said. “First time homeowners can buy them and move up rather than start at the top right away.”
In establishing the $14 tax rate, the council will collect the needed $2,940,079 in tax dollars to run the town plus an overlay of $30,604.
A higher rate would have produced an overlay of up to $150,000 that could be used to offset next year’ s taxes, but not all on the council were comfortable taking tax money now to be spent in a year.
“I’ ve never been a big fan of paying money to offset next year,” Caron said. “You’ re taxing them money they could have in the bank.”
In separate town business, the council:
? Authorized up to $150,000 for summer road maintenance projects and recommended Pine Street, Birch Street, Third Avenue, Violette Settlement Road, Jacob Road and Marquis Road receive top priority based on surface condition and number of residents affected.
? Gave the go-ahead for a Community Development Block Grant as a first step toward major capital improvements to the municipal wastewater system. The action occurred after a hearing that lasted exactly four minutes.
The council’ s approval was needed to accept the $10,000 planning grant, which will allow the town to form a comprehensive improvement plan for the system.
“I would say this is long overdue,” Bannen said.
Overall, the plan will include an evaluation of the current wastewater system, a use study and identify areas in need of capital improvement will cost $20,000 to $25,000, Bannen said.
There is a strong possibility the $10,000 CDBG will be supplemented by an additional $10,000 from the Maine Drinking Water Program, he said.
“The town will have to come up with the remaining $5,000,” Bannen said.
Bannen said the town is eligible to apply for additional CDBG funds to offset improvement costs to the wastewater system.