Brunswick wrestles with how to deliver on tax-relief promise

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council set a public hearing for Sept. 5 to discuss property tax relief after the town received a smaller-than-expected state property tax reimbursement in July.

One councilor proposed using proceeds from the June sale of the 946 Mere Point Road to offset the shortfall, instead of a plan designed by Finance Director Julia Henze. The idea was met with hesitation, and Chairwoman Alison Harris delayed its consideration as an alternative to the Sept. 5 hearing.

The council on Aug. 21 also directed Town Manager John Eldridge to continue researching a plan to mitigate the sound of train horns and noise caused by the Downeaster layover facility in west Brunswick.

When Eldridge drafted the budget last spring, he told the council it was built on several uncertainties. One of those was reimbursement for education funding. But another was a possible reduction in the Homestead Exemption property tax reimbursement program.

When the Legislature reached a budget compromise on July 4, around $600,000 in education subsidy was restored to the town, $200,000 of which the council had anticipated it might receive and appropriated to property tax relief.

What councilors didn’t see coming, they indicated Monday, was that a 50 percent reduction in the Homestead reimbursement would make the state allocation a wash. Brunswick will receive nearly $912,000, down from the anticipated $1.14 million and more than $200,000 less than budgeted.

That means in order for the council to keep its promise to use restored funds to reduce the tax rate increase from 3 percent to 2 1/2 percent, it must find the money elsewhere.

Henze on Monday proposed three different areas of the budget to offset the shortfall.

But Councilor Jane Millett suggested the council use a portion of what it received from the sale of a tax-acquired property at 946 Mere Point Road, of which $440,000 was earmarked to improve public water access.

Councilor David Watson questioned the wisdom of reallocating money designed for a long-term investment to provide short-term relief.

He said the council kept its commitment to use the restored state funds to offset property tax relief, and “it’s not our fault, it’s the state’s fault” that unanticipated results of the state budget compromise resulted in a “zero net gain.”

Councilor Steve Walker – who originally proposed using the Mere Point sale proceeds to improve water access, after his motion to make the property a park failed – agreed with Watson.

“If we do this, let’s tread carefully,” he said, indicating that he wasn’t entirely opposed to Millett’s suggestion.

Chairwoman Alison Harris ultimately postponed the discussion because it was late and the meeting was veering into its fourth hour.

Before releasing the Mere Point funds, she said the council must prepare for what has historically been a politically fraught discussion, and one better conducted “at a time when we’re fresh.”

Train noise

Eldridge said he is researching whether the town is eligible for quiet zones at the Stanwood Street and Union Street crossings following repeated noise complaints and at least one report of a code violation from residents in the neighborhood near the Downeaster layover facility. 

The Federal Rail Administration requires trains to sound a short whistle, two long ones, and another short one to signal arrival at street crossings. The frequency of those soundings has increased with the greater number of trains passing through the town’s intersections on their way to the layover station, Eldridge said. 

Silencing the horns will likely mean the town will have to install supplementary safety features at those crossings, Eldridge said, which would include paying for a traffic study and engineering work.

Eldridge told the council he will look into potential costs after learning whether the town is eligible.

He said it is less clear whether Brunswick has jurisdiction or the ability to directly intervene at the yard, where residents have complained about horns and mechanical noise. The town has contacted Amtrak about the issue, but abutters still report disruptions and being awakened at night.

Eldridge said he will look into how activity within the building is supervised.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Brunswick Town Hall

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or
  • Chew H Bird

    What about the massive increases in property taxes due to the revaluation?

    • Constant

      There is no “massive increase in property taxes due to the revaluation.” Some people will see increased valuation, reflecting fair market value, approximately 1/3 of properties. About 1/3 will stay the same. The final 1/3 will see reduction. That is due to the market value, not due to some increase in taxation. If your property taxes go up, it’s because the other people in town are no longer subsidizing your taxes by paying a disproportionate share of taxes themselves.

      • Chew H Bird

        So, if my property has devalued in terms of resale value, and my taxes go up by 30%, that makes sense to you?

        • Constant

          If your property has actually “devalued in terms of resale value,” since the last revaluation, then your taxes are not going up by 30%. The tax rate was already set by the town. The revaluation will not change the rate, obviously. But if your property value has increased more than the average increase in other Brunswick properties, then, yes, your taxes will be going up. Because you own property that is more valuable than the average in Brunswick. If this is the case, then you’ve been subsidized by the rest of us for a long time, and you may not like it, but I don’t like paying your share of property taxes.

          • Chew H Bird

            Property is worth significantly less than the average Brunswick property… Commercial business next door, no water access, no water view, small lot, small house, and so on… Yet according to town website (and town links), taxes are going up 30%.

          • Constant

            Then you were not being assessed at fair market value by the town – for many years. And that is finally catching up. Meantime, we were assessed at FMV after minor work, even as most of the town was not near FMV, and have subsequently paid thousands of dollars more than we should have over the years if the town had simply reassessed all properties as it should have. We have been subsidizing your taxes, as your property has been undervalued and under taxed by the town. Now you are complaining? Funny, you were not complaining for all those years your assessment was well below FMV!

          • Chew H Bird

            I have been complaining for decades about high property taxes. A neighbor, long retired and on a fixed income just had his property tax double and he will likely have to move to another town as he cannot increase his income to offset the cost. Another neighbor (also on a fixed income), already put his house on the market because of the increase in property tax. Other homes in my area have sold at less than FMV because the assessed FMV is too high. I wonder if that has anything to do with an out of state firm doing the assessment?

          • Constant

            If you have evidence that your FMV is not properly reflected in the assessment, then you have grounds to appeal. If you are upset about high property taxes, I hope you are doing something other than complain. The State has withdrawn education funding year after year, with the burden increasingly falling on the property taxpayer, in order to hand out tax cuts to those who need them the least. I am sure that’s what you’re focused on, right?

          • Chew H Bird

            If you bring education into the mix, Brunswick has a wonderful college who has many buildings more than a hundred years old that are in great shape instead of creating disposable buildings and failing to maintain them…

          • Constant

            Wow, you specialize in saying things that are off-point and filled with misinformation. Your taxes have been subsidized for years by other people, and as soon as it’s clear that that is your situation, and that I’m not going to let you wriggle out of that, you morph into general anti-tax stuff. And spout bs.

            Bowdoin College has an enormous endowment. They spend enormous amounts of money on those buildings. The buildings are in “great shape” because anti-spending people do not yell about spending on those buildings whenever they need costly repair, which is what our lovely town does, pretty much all the time. It was the anti-tax activists who insisted that the Times Record building was a great investment. Conveniently forgotten by the anti-tax folks. You want to believe that your tax dollars are wasted, that expenditures are unnecessary, and that somehow your anti-tax stance is not itself harmful to the shared enterprise of having a thriving community. You want to cast aspersions on whatever it is that does not line up with this whacko world view, despite facts and the public interest.

            Good luck with that.

          • Chew H Bird

            The Times Record building was a horrible investment that anyone without a blindfold could see coming. The “new” town office has more than tripled in costs since it was acquired. The new Police station was built in an area that will be extremely expensive to expand should the need arise and apparently we were not patient enough to wait a little longer for inexpensive property on the old base.

            Jordan Acres is unsafe because of a combination of poor engineering, a failure to shovel the roof, and none of the culprits were ever held accountable.

            I have taken issue with these major brain freeze activities on a consistent basis.

            Generally, the most cost effective building is one that is paid off…

            People build homes to last for more than 40 years.

            I cannot recall ever taking issue with common sense maintenance and have a background in construction. Our town has consistently failed to intelligently steward taxpayer funds for decades and the latest fiasco with getting around zoning by using Federal money for the empty Amtrak is an every day reminder of foolhardy spending with good intentions but lack of common sense.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Seeing the obscene new property tax bills resulting from revaluation and then reading ridiculous comments like yours makes me so happy I moved out of Brunswick! I now live in a more expensive home in NH that has LOWER property taxes then what the new tax bill will be on my former Brunswick home. The new town is great, schools are better than the deteriorating Brunswick schools and to top it off I also don’t have to pay any state income or sales tax in NH. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t move sooner!

            I recommend anyone left in Brunswick with shred of common sense or fiscal responsibility pack up and move as well. Leave the town to those like Constant who mindlessly applaud the orchestra while the ship sinks around them.