HOLDEN, Maine — The Town Council voted Monday night to use $185,000 in undesignated funds to keep the tax rate exactly where it is, then approved a conservation easement conveying 21 acres to a local land trust, Town Councilor Ralph McLeod said Tuesday.
The property tax rate is staying the same as last year, at $13.71 per $1,000 in valuation, he said. “There was no increase in taxes.”
Town leaders decided last year not to use any undesignated funds to reduce taxes and residents saw their tax rate increase by $1.38.
When it came time to discuss a conservation easement for 21 acres on Hog Hill, which is located off the Nickerson Road, McLeod said he became perturbed with his fellow councilors.
“The big bone of contention during the meeting [was when] the council gave property owned by the town to the Holden Land Trust,” he said. “The deal they worked out with them is the town still owns the property, but they have it in perpetuity. I was really upset.”
The town acquired the property years ago through nonpayment of taxes after the former landowner built an illegal radio tower on it and later abandoned it, McLeod said. With a conservation easement like the one approved Monday night, the landowner continues to own the land but gives up rights to develop the property in accordance to the terms of the agreement with the land trust, he said.
McLeod said the town’s conservation commission was not interested in acquiring the land, assessed at around $50,000, and added that he proposed giving the property to the Holden Land Trust, which formed in 2007, for 20 years, which was rejected by his fellow councilors.
Council Chairman John Bryant, who also is chairman of the land trust, and three other councilors decided the conservation easement would be in perpetuity.
“They gave away all the rights,” McLeod said. “I voted against it because it was not representing the town of Holden.”
He added later that, “I’m pretty sure if they put this to a public vote residents would not agree to give this land to what is an elitist hiking group.”
Hog Hill has been described as “Holden’s Hidden Treasure” and “one of the last undeveloped hilltops in Holden” by resident Ellen Campbell, a Holden Land Trust member, in land trust news briefs printed in the Bangor Daily News.
The goal of the land trust is to ensure property is preserved for generations to come, Campbell has said.
McLeod said a 50- to 60-acre property next to the Hog Hill parcel recently sold for more than $100,000. Messages for both Campbell and Bryant were not immediately returned on Wednesday.
In other town news, resident and SAD 63 board candidate Karen Clark asked last Friday for a recount of the ballots after losing to incumbent Don Varnum, who got 85 votes to her 75 during local elections held last week.
The recount of the 171 ballots will take place at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Deputy Town Clerk Wanda Libbey said.