June 24, 2018
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How far can Maine’s property taxes increase?

By Fran Drabick, Special to the BDN

Machias Savings Bank helped me buy my first home, at the age of 51, in Eastport. I could afford the mortgage, the insurance and the property tax in 2002. I still can, but it’s tight. I did not go into a frivolous financial game but frugally budgeted every dollar, especially when trying to find honest repair people for my home, which wasn’t always the case.

Today, I am on a fixed income of very modest means, and I need to show how important state aid for education, revenue sharing and the Homestead Exemption is to my financial health.

These programs have reduced my property tax, depending on the year, by 31 to 49 percent. This keeps me and thousands of other local homeowners from foreclosure or tax liens, as property taxes soared with updated assessments. And I mean local owners in the sense that they own one home and do not use Maine as a second-home vacationland.

I hope the reality of what most Mainers have been going through for the past 10 years sinks into our governor’s and some legislators’ ideas of change for the better. My mortgage is the same, thanks to the excellent and open exchanges with Machias Savings when I first applied for a mortgage, but house insurance and sewer and water bills have all risen steadily, nearly doubling in all cases. My property taxes more than doubled in 10 years. I think most homeowners can claim these increases to be true for themselves as well.

When I first bought the house in 2002, the taxes passed to me were $672. Here are the years that follow from 2003 to 2011 for property taxes in Eastport, with the first jump in 2003: $869, $762, $801, $948, $1,078, $1,184, $1,345, $1,529 and $1,617. As one can read, I pay nearly $1,000 more in property taxes than 10 years ago, and that is with the state aid for education, municipal revenue sharing and the Homestead Exemption firmly in place.

In 2002, my land was assessed at $4,512 and my building was assessed at $26,752. My land in 2012 was assessed at $25,300, with the building at $55,000. A modest dwelling has taken on assessments that have soared in 10 years, thus insurance increases kept in line. Tax lien, anyone?

If anyone reading this has been amused by the modest numbers, then you are unaware of many of the average homeowners in Washington County and need to educate yourself about the “real” middle class.

My property taxes have much more than doubled. And they may come close to tripling if our Legislature makes the wrong decisions. My income has not doubled and certainly will not triple, so what is our solution as we run out of dollars to stretch?

Where will today’s politics push the people who played by the rules when they bought their homes, thinking that they would face only modest increases of their monthly bills? Tax lien? Foreclosure?

I once heard a nice person laugh who has a vacation home here. He was amused by how low his taxes were in Maine, compared with his home state. Yet another mused that his phone and cable bills were more than my mortgage. What do those sort of comments say to our governor and Legislature? Are they even listening? Take a walk through Eastport and see the empty homes that offer no revenues year round for businesses, from water to grocer, to a long-gone pharmacy.

Families, from “away” or those born here, who live here 365 days a year, keep the community and school functioning. There are many dedicated people who want to stay in their homes throughout Maine. Please keep that in mind, governor, when slicing up the state aid for education revenue sharing and the Homestead Exemption.

I ask the governor, please give Maine homeowners some peace of mind, and assure us we’ll have our homes in the near future. Do not weaken communities by creating more devastating foreclosures, and please keep in mind that a foreclosure is not a statistic but yet another family that disappears, thus making a community less vibrant — much like all those empty houses throughout Eastport.

Fran Drabick lives in Eastport.

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