MACHIAS, Maine — Two controversial topics — tax bills and the status of the town’s airport — were the hot topics of Wednesday night’s selectmen’s meeting.
More than 80 people turned out at Rose Gaffney Elementary School’s gymnasium to express their opposition to a regional airport and their outrage that, in some cases, their tax bills increased by 192 percent.
The airport was discussed first, with Chairman Aubrey “Skip” Carter telling the audience that the board had three choices before it: do nothing, extend the runway by 600 feet to provide a safe-landing buffer, or approach the county commissioners about undertaking a regional airport, possibly in the town of Marshfield.
Carter polled the selectmen who all opposed a regional airport but were divided on whether to spend money for an extension.
Carter explained that the town could apply for a Federal Aviation Administration grant that would cover 95.7 percent of the cost of the expansion. The town would have to pick up the remaining 4.3 percent, he said. Town Manager Betsy Fitzgerald said that the grant would also be used to upgrade the airport and install gas pumps.
“The sale of gas would be used to offset maintenance costs and actually decrease what the town appropriates for the airport each year,” she said.
The board first defeated a motion to leave the airport as is. The selectmen then defeated a motion to apply for the grant for the extension.
The original motion to leave the airport as it currently exists was then offered again and passed.
Talk then turned to taxes. Town Assessor J. Douglas Guy was on hand to explain that the town’s sales ratio — which is a formula that compares the value a property has been assessed for taxes and the sales price — had badly slipped. When it dips below 70 percent, the state can mandate a revaluation.
Guy said he had been revaluing all town properties over the past two years. The last valuation was in 1997, he said.
“I understand your frustration and I know a lot of you are angry,” Guy told the audience. “This revaluation obviously caused quite a shift in value.”
Some residents said their properties had increased by 142 percent, 125 percent and 192 percent. Guy said that the revaluation doubled the town’s value, from $70 million to $140 million.
“My main objective is to achieve consistency and fairness,” he said.
Guy said he inspected — at least from the street — every one of the town’s more than 1,300 properties. “Some I looked more closely at than others,” he said.
He said that residents with a question or concern about their tax bill should call the town office and make an appointment with him for a review.
One resident pointed out that this year’s town expenditures were up by $275,000 and there were very few people at the annual town meeting.
“One way to get your taxes down is to spend less,” Kevin Millay said. “If you didn’t go to town meeting, you have no argument. If you voted to raise town expenses, you have no argument.”