MILLINOCKET, Maine — Taxpayers likely will get a tax break of about $1.30 per $1,000 of taxable property in the first-half municipal tax bills they will receive late next week, Assessor Michael Noble said Thursday.
Noble, who sets the town tax rate as the assessor, discussed how much to lower the town’s present mill rate of 24.2 mills with the Town Council during its meeting Thursday. He presented to the council possible new mill rates of 23.6 or 23.1 mills, but councilors opted to lower it further, to what Noble believes will be 22.9 mills, he said.
Councilors set the lowest rate by dipping into the school system’s anticipated $512,000 budget surplus by $250,000, $100,000 more than Noble and Town Manager Eugene Conlogue advised. The increased allocation leaves a town budget surplus of just more than $1.9 million, up from $1.8 million as of July 2008.
If the new mill rate is set today at precisely 22.9 mills, that means that taxpayers would pay $22.90 per $1,000 of taxable property, or a person who owns a $100,000 house would pay $2,290 in taxes this year. That would represent a reduction of $130 over last year’s tax rate for the same homeowner.
Councilors were miffed that the school system’s budget had such a large overage and that school officials failed to get their budgeting information to town hall more quickly. This effectively forced councilors to help decide on a new mill rate and amend the town’s budget at the last minute, as first-half tax payments are due on Nov. 20 and tax bills haven’t gone out yet, councilors said.
“We all had heartburn passing last year’s school budget, and now we find out that we have given them an extra $512,000 that they didn’t need,” Councilor James Mingo said. “I think that money should be returned to the taxpayer. They should see that money come back to them this year. The fact of the matter is, when you overtax people, you should pay them back for it.”
The overage is especially irksome, Councilor Jimmy Busque said, given that school officials were quick to criticize councilors last spring for not fully funding the requested Millinocket School Committee budget.
Noble and Conlogue didn’t disagree with councilors opting for the lowest mill rate, but felt that leaving more money in the town’s budget surplus would be a good idea. The surplus is the town’s rainy day fund, the money the council looks for to handle unanticipated expenses or emergencies.
Conlogue and councilors outlined several possible areas of shortfall in the town’s anticipated income, including shortages in state education funding and other programs likely to face cuts because of the state government’s anticipated $100 million deficit.
“There is always good reason to want to reduce taxes … but these are the things lurking around the corner,” Conlogue said. “We don’t want to put ourselves in a bind.”
Mingo and Councilor David Cyr said the lowest tax rate would be a good economic development incentive and would help residents get through these difficult economic times.