ROCKLAND, Maine — Town officials from across Knox County say that cuts in state aid to municipalities and schools are direct tax hikes to their property owners.
Many of the concerned area town managers and selectmen met Thursday afternoon with the Knox County Commissioners to map out a unified effort to lobby the Legislature that will determine budgets and laws starting in January.
“Taxpayers are getting buried,” said Thomaston Town Manager Valmore Blastow.
He pointed out that the local communities that make up Regional School Unit 13 are getting $2.4 million less in state education aid than before the district was formed four years ago by combining School Administrative Districts 5 and 50. He said the school district has done its part by reducing spending but those cuts have been more than offset by the loss of state aid.
Blastow said Thomaston has managed to limit the increase in its property taxes by attracting commercial development. He said that if the Walmart Supercenter were built today, this year’s tax rate increase would not have occurred. But those developments, including the new Walmart, don’t offer a permanent solution, he said.
“We would need to build a super Walmart every year to keep tax increases down,” Blatow said. “We get tax increases every year from the state.”
Rockport Town Manager Robert Peabody agreed and said he also was concerned about the possibility that the state would shift the responsibility for maintaining roads, such as Routes 1 and 17, over to the towns.
“If Route 1 and Route 17 were given back to us, that would be a tremendous cost,” Peabody said.
Knox County Commission Chairman Roger Moody said that having the state take over control of the jails made sense, but that the state had failed to meet its obligations, particularly when it comes to previous debt. He said the impact on Knox County has been less than on other counties because Knox has no debt on its jail.
The Maine County Commissioners Association will be asking the Legislature to consider bills to provide more support for jail debt, as well as to increase the document filing fees at the registry of deeds and to provide adequate money for the 911 system through a fee hike on phone bills, said interim Executive Director J. Timothy Leet.
Geoff Herman, director of state and federal relations for the Maine Municipal Association, said the current administration supports local control except when it comes to raising revenues.
Herman said the top priority of municipalities should be to protect core financial programs such as state revenue sharing and education aid.
“When they shortchange us, only the property owners pay and that is fundamentally unfair,” he said.
Representatives from Owls Head, South Thomaston, Rockland, Camden and Hope were also in attendance at the one-hour meeting held at the Knox County Courthouse. The group agreed to invite local legislators to a meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4, to discuss some of the concerns.