BRUNSWICK — Town councilors on July 6 unanimously authorized an $18,000 unbudgeted expenditure to help a local social service agency out of a tax jam.
The problem began when the agency, Family Focus, acquired property on Venture Drive at Brunswick Landing in January 2014, but did not apply for a property tax exemption.
As a result it faced a nearly $18,000 property tax bill that it couldn’t pay, according to a June 30 memo by Town Manager John Eldridge.
Eldridge said that because the organization had long been exempt from property tax on its 44 Water St. property, it did not know it had to file for a separate exemption at Venture Drive.
Family Focus acquired the Brunswick Landing property in 2014 in a public benefit conveyance from the U.S. Navy.
The Venture Drive property has been exempted for the 2015 tax year. But the question remained of how to pay the $18,000.
Under state law, the town assessor can only provide a tax abatement to correct illegality, error or irregularity in assessment. A late filing for an exemption “does not fit the criteria for an abatement,” according to Assessor Cathleen Jamison.
“As the town cannot abate the tax, it seems the only way to assist Family Focus in this matter would be for the town to provide a grant to the organization in an amount equal to the taxes owed,” Eldridge wrote.
He said the Town Council would have to authorize an over-expenditure of the town’s appropriation for social services in order to make the grant.
“The jeopardy Family Focus was in was pretty significant … my feeling was I didn’t want to put them in any further jeopardy,” Councilor Jane Millet said after the meeting.
She stressed, however, the need for the council to establish a concrete policy on funding social service agencies.
But she said this instance was somewhat of a “technicality.”
“Had they received that (tax-exempt) status we wouldn’t have received those funds anyway,” she said.
Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman called the missed filing an “honest mistake.”
Councilor John Richardson abstained from Monday’s vote because he serves on the agency’s board.
Family Focus was founded in 1985 to “to provide child care services to low? and middle?income children in the greater Bath?Brunswick area,” according to its incorporation papers.
The organization provides early learning services for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers at three facilities, and also school-age care in Bowdoinham, Topsham, Harpswell and Brunswick, according to its website.