Wiscasset charts new course in setting tax rate

Wed, 09/23/2020 - 12:30pm

    Wiscasset property taxes will go up for some and, with the homestead exemption figured in, down for others following a select board decision Tuesday evening, Sept. 22.  Tax bills will be in the mail before the end of the month, with the first payment due Oct. 23.

    The previous select board promised there would be no increase in property taxes if voters agreed to use capital reserve monies to buy three emergency vehicles and make infrastructure improvements at Wiscasset Community Center and the treatment plant. The prior board also estimated it would have $182,294 left over to apply to the tax commitment.

    Sept. 22, Town Manager Dennis Simmons told the new board that, to keep property taxes flat, they would need to take an extra $100,000 from the undesignated fund balance to apply to the tax commitment. Rather than draw down this account, he recommended raising the tax rate and taking more from revenue sharing. Simmons offered several options for the board to consider all of which put the rate over $20 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. Last year’s rate was $19.90.

    The board settled on a rate of $20.12 and increasing revenue sharing by $75,000. The vote was 3-2, with Katharine Martin-Savage, Sarah Whitfield and chair Pam Dunning voting in favor and Kim Andersson and Jeff Slack opposed. “We as a board made a commitment, it was going to be a zero-tax increase,” Slack commented, but his motion to take the needed $100,000 from undesignated funds failed. The vote was 3-2, with Dunning, Martin-Savage and Whitfield opposed and he and Andersson in favor.

    “We didn’t say maybe, we said we’d keep the (rate) where it’s at ($19.90),” said Andersson. She pointed out the board was already a quarter of the way into the new fiscal year. “If there’s an emergency we could go into our reserves.”

    Dunning said the new board wasn’t responsible for the previous board’s plans. “I’m not in favor of taking $100,000 from the undesignated fund balance. Right now it’s only a third of what it should be,” she said.

    Sept. 8, voters elected Dunning and Whitfield and re-electedAndersson.

    Martin-Savage said the COVID-19 pandemic altered many things. “We were all wishing we could keep (property) taxes where they were,” she said. Afterward she told Wiscasset Newspaper she is one of the property owners who will be paying more this year.

    Reached by telephone, former selectman Ben Rines Jr. said he was disappointed by the decision. “I would have taken the money from surplus and kept property taxes where they were as we promised.” Rines lost his run for re-election.

    The undesignated fund balance has surplus monies set aside which the board can apply to the tax commitment. Other uses of these funds require voter approval.

    Even with the increase, Simmons said most Wiscasset homeowners would see a small decrease in their 2020 property taxes due to the homestead exemption credit. The exemption applies to homeowners who have applied and it appears on their tax bill.

    Wiscasset’s capital funds stood at $12.26 million at the close of the stock market July 31. Endowment funds were at $3.82 million.