Property owners outraged as Orient taxes nearly double

Posted Oct. 19, 2011, at 8:59 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 19, 2011, at 10:12 p.m.

ORIENT, Maine — Taxes in Orient are on the rise, and that has a number of residents up in arms.

Town Clerk Alicia Silkey said the tax rate for 2011 recently was set at $12.10 per $1,000 of assessed property value, representing a significant increase over last year’s $7.40 mill rate. She attributed the increased tax rate to a number of factors, including a loss of state revenue and increased heating and fuel costs.

“We’re just like everyone else in terms of losing state revenue,” she said. “Our costs have also gone up, just like they have in other communities.”

In several letters to the editor submitted to The Houlton Pioneer Times, taxpayers expressed concerns over the increased tax rate in Orient and also noted a typographical error on the tax bills.

“Our taxes increased 75 percent in 2008 without warning,” said Sharon Harbeck, whose primary residence is in McKinney, Texas, but who also owns summer property in Orient. “This year they are almost doubling, also without warning.”

“It is difficult to understand how expenses for the town of Orient can be so out-of-control that property taxes have to nearly double in a single year,” said Don McLaughlin, whose permanent residence is in New York. “Notification of such a financial burden, with an explanation would have been helpful. That was not the case — just a bill in the mail.”

Silkey acknowledged, “We’ve had a lot of people coming in and complaining (about their tax bills). I’m just the messenger, but people don’t seem to get that.”

Orient’s town clerk for the past 10 years pointed out, however, that even with this year’s increase, the mill rate for Orient is far lower than neighboring communities of similar size in Aroostook County. The Maine Register lists Orient’s year-round population at 145 residents in 2009-10.

For home and land valued at $100,000 in Orient, the tax bill would be $1,210. In comparison, Danforth’s mill rate for 2011 is 17.06, which means a similar home and land valued at the same price would come with a tax bill of $1,706.

According to Silkey, the 2011 mill rate for Amity is 15.70, down from 16.00 in 2010; Ludlow’s rate is 16.20, the same for both 2010 and 2011; Bridgewater’s rate for 2011 is 15.00, up from 12.00 in 2010; Cary Plantation’s rate is 19.16 in 2011, up from 15.82 in 2010; Crystal’s rate is 17.50 this year, the same as last year; while Weston’s rate is 14.50 this year, up from 13.35 in 2010.

“Three years ago, the rate was even higher, but last year we had a decrease,” she said. “We were advised by our auditor last year that we should use some funds that we had been saving, so we used those funds last year to reduce the taxes.”

Silkey said the town’s taxes were committed on Friday, Sept. 30, and mailed to residents on Monday, Oct. 3. Residents who pay their taxes before Nov. 14 can get a 2 percent discount on their taxes.

A typo in the bills, however, may have confused some taxpayers hoping to take advantage of the discount.

“When the tax bills were printed, the computer didn’t roll over to the new year, so they all say Nov. 14, 2010. Those that pay by Nov. 14, 2011, will get the discount,” Silky said.

According to Ronald Peabody, whose primary residence is in Hodgdon, property valuations in Orient are also in need of adjustments.

“A revaluation was done just four years ago (2007) and another done in 2011,” he wrote. “Our property has had an increase in the amount of $72,370 since 2003. (That is) quite a jump in eight years for a seasonal residence. I might also add that general maintenance is all that has been done.”

Silkey said the town is in the midst of reviewing all of its property values, not just lake ront property. The town’s assessing agent, Mike McPherson, has been reviewing the property valuations for the past year and has been in contact with the state’s Revenue Department, Silkey said.

Towns often do revaluations of property and adjust prices based on market values. That revaluation may or may not involve coming to a person’s home to inspect the property. Those revaluations can be done either on an individual basis, if the taxpayer requests it, or on a townwide basis.

“We have had camps here in Orient that we had on the tax books for $60,000 that have sold for $350,000,” Silkey said. “The townwide revaluations we are currently doing will not be finalized or take effect for three years. We’re just trying to bring the values to where they should be.”

Silkey said there were some properties in the town that did not have property cards at the town office while others had buildings that were added to the property that were reported to the town.

“I’m sorry if there is a group that doesn’t like it, but lakefront property is expensive, no matter where you are,” Silkey said. “It’s the same in Rangeley or any other place where there are homes on the water.”

Silkey acknowledged that the current economic climate is not the best and that people are struggling to pay their bills. Last year, for the first time in her 10 years as town clerk, the town had to take out tax anticipation notes to cover expenses because tax bills were slow to be paid, even with the discount offered.

“Last June we had $45,000 in outstanding taxes that people had not paid,” she said, which forced the town to take out a loan to pay its own bills.

Liens on properties have increased dramatically in recent years, going from four or five in a year to nearly 30 in 2010, Silkey said.

“If you get in a rough spot and can’t pay your taxes, the only choice we have is to put a lien on the property,” she said. “We don’t like doing it. The select board has a long history of trying to work with people.”

At the annual town vote, held Aug. 29, Victor Alexander was re-elected to a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen with 40 votes. Richard Knight received 12. Susan Lamach was re-elected as a school board member with 45 votes. Louise Beaulieu received four votes and Peter Roach one.

Silkey was re-elected to the position of town clerk for another three years with 49 written votes. Beaulieu and Lamach each received one vote. Silkey was also re-elected as the town’s treasurer and tax collector for three more years.

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