LAKE VIEW PLANTATION, Maine — From a distance, Lake View Plantation could pass for a model village for a toy train set.
Well-kept homes dot a hillside that slopes down to railroad tracks and to the shore of Schoodic Lake in this quaint village tucked away a few miles from its larger neighbors of Milo and Brownville.
Despite the fact this settlement of 70 year-round residents has little infrastructure other than a small community building that doubles as a church in summer, it pays the fourth-highest county tax of the 19 organized communities in Piscataquis County.
That’s because 90 percent of Lake View is enrolled in the tree growth program, so the owners of the approximately 400 waterfront cottages bear the brunt. The plantation’s state valuation in 2009 was $120.5 million, which resulted in a county assessment of $146,791. In comparison, the county assessment for Milo was $118,651 and for Brownville, $68,218.
“It’s one of the handful of towns [in the state] that’s probably in this situation,” David LeDew, director of the Maine Revenue Service’s Property Tax Division, said recently. “It is not that common because you have so much value wrapped up in a few properties.”
The value around the lake further inflates the valuation base because 22,000 acres of forestland in the plantation is in tree growth, and the tree growth value is about $110 an acre, he said.
Claire Mayo, Lake View’s treasurer and tax collector, said the water frontage continues to drive up the state valuation. Property on the water is valued at $1,575 per foot.
“You could have a property valuation on land of over $200,000 and your camp could only be valued at $40,000,” she said Tuesday.
Although the state valuation is high, the plantation’s assessors have managed to keep expenses down over the years, resulting in mill rates ranging from $1 to $5 per $1,000 of property valuation. Residents voted at the annual town meeting last week to change back to a calendar fiscal year, so the tax rate for the first six-month budget from July 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2010, is expected to be a little less than the $2.21 per $1,000 property valuation adopted last year.
That low mill rate and the lake are what have drawn many retirees to settle in this community, which became a plantation in 1892 and was home to the Merrick Spool Factory, which employed about 300 in the late 1800s. The spool factory was taken over by the American Thread Co. around the turn of the 20th century. Until the mill closed in 1925, the community thrived and had one of the best schools in the county, according to historian William Sawtell of Brownville, author of “Schoodic Lake Revisited.”
After the mill closed, most of the residents moved to the larger surrounding communities and some even moved their homes, Sawtell said this week.
The remaining vacant homes and the waterfront property began to draw people who were looking for a peaceful place and didn’t mind the chugging and clanging of the train through the community as often as three times a day.
One of those settlers is Beth Zaccaro, whose Hamlin ancestors operated and worked in the former spool factory in the village. Zaccaro purchased a camp on the lake in 2003, but sold it later and purchased the historic but dilapidated 10-bedroom boarding home in the village to save it from demolition. Zaccaro is restoring the tin ceilings and walls and hardwood floors and converting the building into a private residence. Her property also features the former holding cell used for prisoners awaiting the train in those early years.
Zaccaro, who made her living as a federal court reporter in Los Angeles, said it was those historic connections that drew her to Lake View. “I get a feeling of a village, a very peaceful environment,” she said of the community.
Barbara Reed, plantation clerk, first came to Lake View to visit a friend who had a camp on the lake and liked the community so much she moved there in 1977.
“We just moved out here to get out of the rat race because we lived [at that time] in York, Maine,” she said. It wasn’t long before she was serving the plantation, first as a ballot clerk and then in 1986 as town clerk.
Unlike other towns across the state, Lake View Plantation doesn’t have any vacant positions since most residents are willing to do what they can, according to Reed. Those officials manage the plantation’s budget, which includes salaries, a few streetlights, the tuition for one high school student, some road improvements, sanita-tion funds, and the rent for the plantation office in Brownville, a central location for residents on each side of the lake.
In addition to those expenses, the plantation officials contract with the Brownville and Milo fire departments to respond to fires along the lake closest to those respective communities and contracts with the Land Use Regulation Commission, which serves as the plantation’s planning board.
“It’s a peaceful little community,” resident Allen Woodruff said recently. The outdoor enthusiast enjoys the lake and the recreational opportunities the four seasons bring. The plantation had been his vacation home for more than 20 years before he decided about 11 years ago to live there year-round. He said he has never regret-ted it.