HOWLAND, Maine — Town taxpayers will see a 10 percent increase in their property taxes this week with big cuts in state revenue sharing and tree-growth programs, Town Manager Jane Jones said.
The nearly 800 bills were being printed at the town office Friday. They are due to start going out in the mail on Monday or Tuesday, she said.
Members of the Board of Selectmen approved the town’s mill rate increase, from 18.8 last tax year, which ended June 30, to 20.8 mills earlier this week.
They weren’t happy about it, Chairman Frank Kirsch said.
“What are we going to do? It’s one of those things that we have to do to keep the services in town going,” Kirsch said Saturday. “With no businesses in town we don’t have that money coming in that you see coming into other towns, like Enfield. To me, it [the tax increase] is just a hardship on the people.”
“It was extraordinarily difficult for them,” Jones said Friday. “They went through all of the options they had and were very frustrated.”
The increase means that residents who own $100,000 in property will pay $2,080 over the next year.
The main culprits, Jones said, include the state failing fully to subsidize the town’s 15,000 acres held in tree-growth zones for forest-product industry use and state cuts in revenue-sharing with towns.
“If the fund was properly funded, it would be close to $80,000,” Jones said. “The state would make up 90 percent of all of our lost revenue.”
Instead of $80,000, the town will receive $9,700 in state payments to help keep land preserved for tree growth this year, she said.
State revenue sharing funding fell from $170,000 last year to $113,000 this year — a drop equivalent to adding 1.2 mills to the town’s tax rate, Jones said. A homestead exemption reduction of $3,000, from $13,000 to $10,000, further hurts town taxpayers.
One of the roots of Howland’s financial problems, Kirsch said, is an inability to draw substantial businesses to town that would give homeowners some property tax relief — despite access to the Penobscot River, direct access to Interstate 95 by Exit 217 and being only about 45 minutes from Bangor and about 15 minutes south of Lincoln, the Lincoln Lakes Region’s economic hub.
“It seems everything bounces from Bangor to Lincoln and we are left out,” Kirsch said.
Kirsch said he sees no new business opportunities ahead that would meet the town’s economic needs except perhaps development that would come with the cleanup of the former Howland Tannery site and other work being done along the river.
Sludge and contaminated soil are being removed from the site this week and next as part of the cleanup, Jones said.
Once the location of the town’s largest employer, the tannery site is part of Penobscot River Restoration Trust’s plans to build a fish bypass, plant vegetation on some tannery land and dig a channel for the bypass in a project designed to open nearly 1,000 miles of habitat to Atlantic salmon, alewives and other sea-run fish now blocked from migrating upriver.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved in late June the restoration trust’s request to decommission and remove the Veazie and Great Works dams as well as decommission and bypass the Howland dam, with at least one electricity generator shipped to a dam in Medway.
FERC approval was a critical first step in the regulatory process for proposed projects that, by the time they are completed in 2013 or 2014, will reopen hundreds of miles of rivers and streams to Atlantic salmon and other migratory fish.
Kirsch said he would hope to see companies, perhaps tourism-related, eventually come onto the former tannery site to take advantage of its riverfront location.