MILLINOCKET, Maine — With the town’s property tax rate set Thursday at $29.95 per $1,000 of property value for this year, town leaders are focusing more on contending with late property tax payments that contribute to the town’s cash-flow crisis, said Town Manager Peggy Daigle.
The Town Council agreed to commit the town to the new mill rate during its meeting on Thursday. Under the new rate, owners of properties worth $50,000 owe $1,497 this year, a $177 increase on the 26.4 mill rate that lapsed June 30.
Town workers will mail notices this week to the owners of 318 properties, reminding them to pay their property taxes on the former rate. Those payments were due in April, Daigle said.
The 318 delinquencies are “a huge number,” Daigle said.
That number, Daigle said, does not include 28 properties due to be sold once their owners’ 30-day deadlines lapse. Town officials also have removed 11 properties from the delinquent tax rolls, netting $52,347 — $29,367 in delinquent tax payments and $22,980 in property sales.
The mill-rate increase and the attack on tax delinquencies are part of a short-term plan to improve the town’s cash flow, which at one point hovered as low as $600,000 — enough only to run town government for about two weeks. Town government and schools cost about $1.3 million per month, Daigle has said.
“I feel confident that at the end of the year, we will be in a better cash position,” Daigle said. “More than anything, my focus is to get finances on good solid ground. I am not done with that yet.”
Town department heads will try to bring the mill rate back down by cutting expenses as much as possible over the next year. Daigle plans to meet with bankers early this week to apply for a $1 million Tax Anticipation Note, a short-term and low interest loan that will bolster town cash reserves until tax collection begins in earnest.
She will also encourage councilors to reach out to residents, business owners and school officials to begin reshaping a community that has had a population decline of almost 60 percent during the last 30 years.
Town leaders must also begin shaping a longer-term economic strategy that can bring more businesses, tax income and residents to town, she said. That would include encouraging town property owners to buy adjacent abandoned homes and occupy, rent or raze them, she said.
“We have far more houses than population,” Daigle said. “Because we have an excess of housing that we need to deal with, if somebody wants to buy a property, tear it down and add to their property, they will be in a good position with the council.”
Daigle said she is confident that Cate Street Capital, which owns the Katahdin Avenue industrial park, will begin construction over the next year of its first torrified wood machine. The company has applied to the Finance Authority of Maine for a $30 million loan to begin construction.
Each of the five machines the company hopes to install to make the energy pellets over the next five years is expected to create 20 to 25 jobs directly, and another four jobs indirectly.
“I don’t think we have really gone through enough to get to the optimistic stage. The light isn’t all that bright right now,” Daigle said. “The biggest thing is that we have to come up with a [long-term, strategic] plan. Then the light will get a lot brighter.”