Sparsity of state education aid behind Rockland’s tax rate woes

Posted July 01, 2014, at 4:57 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Rockland property owners will feel another tax hike this year even though municipal and school spending has not increased.

The cause is in large part because of the local school district’s share of state aid declining, requiring property taxes to pick up the difference.

Interim Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell announced Monday evening that he expected the city’s property tax rate will be $20.16, up 64 cents from the rate set last year. A person owning a house assessed at $150,000 will pay an additional $96, bringing the total tax bill to $3,024.

Rockland is already ranked as one of the highest taxed communities in the state for properties. The Maine Revenue Services bureau compiles annually a list called the full-value tax rate that adjusts rates so that they are at 100 percent of market value, which allows a comparison.

The 2014 full-value tax rate list has Rockland tied for having the 31st highest property tax rate in Maine. The city’s placement on the list has been increasing since 2006, when it was down to 70th out of nearly 500 Maine communities.

Luttrell said Tuesday that the increase coming for this year is because of the amount of money the city will have to pay Regional School Unit 13. Rockland’s $10.8 million municipal budget for 2014-15, approved Monday evening, is down about $30,000 from the past year.

The RSU 13 budget of $27.2 million approved by voters last month also is down slightly from last year. The reason why the school district is requiring more property taxes from its member communities is because it will have $1.2 million less in revenues in 2014-15 than it had in the previous year. Part of that is because of a smaller surplus than in past years, and part is because state aid is not keeping up with expenses, according to local officials.

Of the $3,024 in property taxes for that $150,000 home, $1,551 will go to RSU 13. Another $1,342 will go for municipal services such as police, fire, public works, recreation, library and harbor operations. The remaining property taxes will go to Knox County to support the sheriff’s patrol, jail and other county functions.

At the school board’s June 5 meeting, members of the district’s building facilities committee made a presentation which contended that the state subsidy formula has been harmful to the Rockland-area school district. The report compared the amount of state aid RSU 13 receives with five other similar school districts in the state.

The report found that RSU 13 receives less than $2,000 per student in state aid, while nearby RSU 3 — which includes Mt. View High School — receives in excess of $8,000 per student, according to the report.

The committee officials urged the board to lobby the Maine Legislature to change the formula so that it is not so tied to property valuations but more to incomes. Many of the communities in RSU 13 are on the coast and have higher property values which means less state aid. The committee representatives urged RSU 13 to band together with other underfunded districts for the change to be made.

RSU 13 Board Chairman Steve Roberts said Tuesday he agrees with the conclusions of the committee.

The average statewide full-value tax rate in 2014 is $13.99, according to Maine Revenue Services. Rockland’s rate was at $20.11.

The highest full-value tax rate in the state is the Aroostook County town of Bancroft, which with a population of 61 residents has a tax rate of $30.16. Mexico is second with a rate of $30.16.

 

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