FORT KENT, Maine — Given the current state of economic affairs on the state and municipal levels, the days of a 14 mill or lower tax rate soon may be a thing of the past.
“I think we need to get the local taxpayers prepared,” Paul Berube, Fort Kent councilman, said during Monday’s regular council meeting. “We need to let people know the tax rate will change.”
Based on information Town Manager Don Guimond shared with the council Monday night, changes in the state budget likely will spell local tax increases.
According to Guimond, reductions in the state’s Homestead Exemption program coupled with projected reductions in state revenue-sharing dollars mean more of a burden on property owners as a source of municipal revenue.
In addition, proposed state legislation that would slash what residents pay for excise tax would create further hardships on the local budget.
“Just the reduction to the Homestead [Exemption] means taxes will go up regardless,” Guimond said.
Taxes in Fort Kent now are paid at a rate of 14 mills, and on Monday council members declined to set the mill rate for the 2009 tax year, pending additional budgetary information.
In addition, some on the Town Council are looking for increased budget accountability and fiscal conservation from the local school district.
Fifty-four percent of every Fort Kent property tax bill is earmarked for SAD 27. The remaining 46 percent is divided among the county tax, the municipal budget and the town’s share of the Homestead Exemption.
This year, voters approved a $10,856,454 SAD 27 budget with a $3.5 million local share.
That, according to one Town Council member, represents a budget process out of touch with what residents are able to pay.
“I went to that [school] budget meeting and everyone there was an [SAD 27] educator,” Berube said. “It’s just like the annual town meeting — we have 4,000 people living here but only 100 show up.”
Given the school budget passed by the voters, Berube said he anticipates a 2 mill to 3 mill increase over the next two years.
“That’s a big hit,” he said.
“You really need to attack the biggest piece of the town budget,” said Councilman Joel Desjardins. “The biggest piece is education.”
Desjardins said he would support increased cooperation between town and school officials in formulating the budgets.
“Maybe if we give SAD 27 a budget target it would help,” he said. “We would have to be involved.”
Berube said residents need to be aware a tax increase is coming.
“I think we do a great job with our municipal budget but we have no control over the school,” he said. “We need to let people know the tax rate is going to change.”
Guimond said he anticipates the new mill rate will be set at the next Town Council meeting.