EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — After months of fearing that declines in Katahdin region population, state aid and regional economic growth would force town property taxes to as much as double, town leaders made a pleasant announcement Monday night.
Sharp budget cuts, fully-restored state aid and an increase in the amount of taxes paid on Penobscot River electrical dams will decrease town taxes from $23.33 per $1,000 in valuation to $21.93, officials said.
The Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 on Monday to accept the new mill rate for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which ends June 30. Half-year tax bills will be mailed in a few days, officials said Tuesday. Under the new rate, owners of $50,000 homes who paid $1,166 in property taxes will now owe $1,096.
Selectmen praised Administrative Assistant Shirley Tapley, Deputy Tax Collector Beverly MacLeod and school leaders for making the cuts.
“It is a good thing. We all worked hard to bring it [the town’s mill rate] down,” said new board Chairman Gary MacLeod. “But it’s hard to say” whether the benefits from those hard choices would be permanent or fleeting.
“I think if things go right, it should be OK,” MacLeod added.
“We still have to be cautious,” Tapley said.
The value of the two Penobscot River dams Brookfield owns that are partly in East Millinocket increased by about $8 million with repairs the company did, slightly increasing the property taxes the town receives, Selectman Clint Linscott said.
Yet new census data indicate that the town’s population continues to drop, Tapley said. Besides a plan to bring torrefied wood manufacturing to Millinocket at the end of 2014, Tapley said she knows of no large-scale employer planning to come to the region.
The first meeting in about a year of the Katahdin Area Recovery and Expansion committee, the region’s primary economic development agency, was postponed Monday due to a lack of a quorum.
Ten small businesses sought loans Monday from the Legislature-approved agreement between Brookfield Asset Management Co. and the state that requires Brookfield to pay $75,000 annually to a regional economic development fund for closing the Millinocket paper mill, which Brookfield once owned, in September 2008.
Made up of leaders from East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket, the KARE committee manages that fund. The governments of the three towns share some services and are discussing sharing more, but have no other joint economic initiatives underway despite the region’s unemployment typically running about double the state average.
The East Millinocket paper mill appears to be operating with greater stability, but it generates $700,000 in property taxes annually per a contractual agreement with new mill owner Great Northern Paper Co. LLC, compared with $2.7 million about a decade ago, Selectman Mark Marston said. Property tax rate fluctuations have no effect on that payment.
After the meeting, Marston questioned whether a 21.93 mill rate was actually good news. Other Penobscot County towns have mill rates in the teens and offer excellent services, he said.
Under the new budget, town leaders delayed allocating money for many needed projects, such as large-scale road maintenance, meaning greater sums will likely be spent later to catch up, Marston said.