May 23, 2018
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Lincoln municipal budget cuts mill rate slightly

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

LINCOLN, Maine — Residents might pay slightly less in property taxes in the fiscal year starting July 1 under the $5.3 million budget town leaders approved earlier this week, officials said Wednesday.

In a series of motions that garnered votes ranging from 4-3 to 7-0, the Town Council on Monday night approved the municipal budget, which carries with it a spending increase of $248,297, or 4.9 percent. Most opposing votes came from the husband-wife team of Councilors Michael and Marscella Ireland.

As projected, the new budget would produce a mill rate of 19.78 mills, a decrease of 0.08 mills from the 19.86 mill rate charged for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Under the projected new mill rate, a property worth $100,000 would be taxed $1,978 annually next year, compared to $1,986 now. A $50,000 property would face taxes of $989 next year, compared to $993.

Among the elements that make the lowered mill rate an uncertainty: a $12.4 million budget for RSU 67, the school unit that serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag, was voted down 359-183 during Tuesday night’s election, and the mill rate’s being set in October.

No new date for another school budget vote has been set, Town Clerk Shelly Crosby said.

If the predicted mill rate holds, an anticipated increase of $15 million in the town’s overall valuation prompted by the completion of the Rollins Mountain industrial wind site, and TIF funds created by the project, will be the cause, Assessor Ruth Birtz said Wednesday.

About 90 percent of the projected valuation increase comes from the value of the project’s turbines and other equipment, Birtz said.

Funds generated by the Rollins Mountain TIF will go from $402,239 this year to $556,583 next year, an increase of $154,344 the town can use for recreation and economic development.

The 2012-13 fiscal year will be the first full tax year of the First Wind project’s operation.

The budget first proposed by former Town Manager Lisa Goodwin and interim Town Manager William Lawrence called for a mill rate of 19.72 mills.

Tax increment financing is among the state’s leading tools for aiding economic development. When a town sees an increase in valuation created by an investment, it also experiences a reduction in its share of state revenues and an increase in county taxes. A TIF allows a town to “shelter” the new valuation from the calculations of state revenue sharing, education subsidy and county tax assessment — in effect creating more money for the town. TIF agreements usually run 20 years.

With a TIF, however, the money that a town gains must be invested in community economic development projects, such as industrial parks or infrastructure improvements that aid businesses, or be paid to those whose work includes economic development efforts.

The votes during Monday’s meeting proceeded smoothly until councilors at first voted down spending about $30,000 to maintain the Ballard Hill Community Center. That sent Town Clerk Shelly Crosby into the other room during an intermission to recompute the budget.

Apparently the leader of the councilors who opposed funding Ballard Hill, Councilor Curt Ring, recommended revisiting the issue when the council reconvened. Votes of 6-1 and 5-2 to reopen the discussion and approve funding Ballard Hill followed.

After the meeting, Ring said he promoted the vote halting funding for Ballard Hill to force the council to face the building’s $16,000 annual heating budget.

“It’s a huge expense,” Ring said.

Ring acknowledged that with the Haunted Hill effort, which council Chairman Steve Clay created and oversees, the building gets more use than ever, but “we need to have a serious discussion” about how to cut the heating cost.

The budget allocation that has funded the aged and somewhat decrepit community center for the last several years is almost exhausted, Ring said.

Councilor David Whalen agreed with Ring.

Several previous attempts by some councilors to close the building have been opposed by Councilor Rod Carr, who has said he believes that the building provides great service to the Meals on Wheels program used by many local seniors.

The council will probably discuss the issue at its next meeting. No agenda has been set.

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