Thursday, December 5, 2013
By Doug Harlow email@example.com
SKOWHEGAN — Residents on Tuesday will be asked to take $300,000 from the town's surplus account to cover losses projected from cuts in state revenue sharing.
SKOWHEGAN MUNICIPAL REVENUE SHARING
* Projected as of Aug. 8 from the state treasurer's website
The question will be on the agenda for a special town meeting at 7 p.m. in the council room at the Town Office on Water Street.
Voters at the annual town meeting in June agreed to take $700,000 from surplus to cover town expenses and to keep the tax rate steady at around the current $16.20 for every $1,000 in property valuation.
If voters approve the request for $300,000 more Tuesday night, that will bring the total to be taken from surplus in the fiscal year to $1 million, according to Town Manager John Doucette Jr.
The new tax rate is to be set sometime in the next two weeks.
Going into the current fiscal year, the town had about $3 million in surplus.
Doucette said the town expects to receive $406,171 in municipal revenue sharing this year, down from $659,291 in fiscal 2013, which ended June 30.
"This is happening because the state took our revenue sharing," Doucette said. "They use it to offset the state budget — take it from the right pocket and put it in the left pocket."
It was either raise taxes, cut more services or tap the surplus account, Doucette said. Town services already are at the bare-bones margin and an aging population in a town of about 9,000 can ill afford a tax increase, he said.
Doucette said he fears that if the tax rate increases it could force older people on fixed income to make dramatic choices about paying for food, medicine or property taxes.
He said in fiscal 2012–13 the town sent out 700 property lien notices for non-payment of taxes, in which a hold is placed on a piece of property until the debt is settled or the property goes to foreclosure. Of that, he said, 300 liens were placed on properties, 135 of which went to foreclosure.
Many of the tax debts were settled before the property was taken, Doucette said. The rest were saved with payment plans that the town agreed to with the property owners so no one would lose their homes.
But the town surplus account has its limits, too, he said.
"Surplus goes down, down, down and taxes go up, up, up," he said. "And next year we'll be losing more in revenue sharing."
Cuts in the annual budget someday could be made in social services line items, such as for the public library and in the daily operations that could include police, fire and public works.
"We look at roads — we've cut our budget for roads so much I get complaints from people all the time," Doucette said.
Doucette said over the past five years, since he was hired as town manager, the tax rate has gone up only about $1 for every $1,000 in property value, but the annual budget continue to rise due to built in costs for employee wages and benefits and the price of fuel.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367