CAPE ELIZABETH — The property tax rate could increase by an additional 16 cents per $1,000 if the latest state budget proposal is approved.
The town is predicting a net loss of $215,500 in revenue from the state, Town Manager Michael McGovern said during a Town Council meeting on Monday. At the same meeting, Chairman Jim Walsh blasted a perceived not-in-my-backyard mentality surrounding the town’s Greenbelt Plan.
McGovern said the state’s latest proposed state budget, which was released June 7, will likely be vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage. Nonetheless, McGovern updated the council on the potential impact.
“It is beyond what we had anticipated,” McGovern said. “It’s another 16-cent hit.”
If passed, the state’s budget would result in an overall tax increase of 4.5 percent or 72 cents per $1,000 of valuation for fiscal 2014.
The majority of the the increase – 56 percent – is beyond the town’s control, McGovern said. Changes at the state-level comprise 44 percent of the increase. Another 6 percent comes from the county assessment and 4 percent is due to state changes to funding of the homestead exemption, which exempts the first $10,000 value of homes for Maine-resident property owners.
“Roughly 2.3 percent of it is directly attributable to actions in Augusta of transferring the burden onto property taxes,” McGovern said of the increase.
Cape Elizabeth’s school and municipal budgets have already been adopted and cannot be changed at this stage of the process, by law. As a result, the town assessor will set the mil rate based on the final figures from Augusta, but McGovern also left it up to the council to voice any objections to that approach. There were none.
The median home value in Cape Elizabeth is $314,000. An additional 16-cent increase in the mil rate translates to $50 per year for a median-value home. The anticipated overall increase of 72 cents would result in a $226 increase for those same homes.
Earlier in the meeting, a discussion on the town Conservation Committee’s responsibilities veered into a discussion of the long-running Greenbelt Plan.
Councilor Jamie Wagner said several residents had expressed concern that potential trail routes had been mapped on their land without permission.
Councilor Jessica Sullivan said the town is not required to notify property owners about any long-range plans to acquire land or access for the Greenbelt trail network. McGovern added that notifying each property owner isn’t practical.
Councilor Caitlin Jordan argued that it is impractical to plan a trail system without first consulting the landowners that may someday be affected.
“It seems like a conversation should be had before you spend a lot of time wishing and dreaming about a trail that’s never going to happen, if the property owner is never going to agree to it,” she said.
David Sherman said objections to lines drawn on property maps might be an “overreaction of people who simply do not support the trail in their vicinity. … There just seems to be a gut reaction by some that ‘you cannot put an X on my property.'”
McGovern said land changes hands relatively often, while long-range planning remains consistent over time. Eventually, parcels become available.
For example, 25 years ago, a trail was proposed near the town center. The landowners at the time refused to participate, but when it was sold to the Pond family, the new owners entered it into a land trust and now a trail runs through it, McGovern said.
Council Chairman James Walsh took a moment to address property owners that have misgivings about the maps. He said it’s frustrating that residents overwhelmingly support the Greenbelt, but some people won’t let it cross their property, even if it’s just an ink-on-paper representation.
“This is the No. 1 reason people wanted to be here – because of our Greenbelt – which wouldn’t have been created if people had hardship over dotted lines.”
Walsh then voiced frustration at the attitudes that stymie trail development.
“It’s very frustrating because the framers had decided to do something that was for the good of everybody, but all I’m hearing now is, ‘not in my neighborhood,'” he said. “I just don’t get it. ‘Oh, I like open space, but I’ll go do it in your neighborhood, not mine. I’ll do Greenbelt in your neighborhood, but not mine.'”
Walsh said a Greenbelt trail traverses his driveway and is frequently used throughout the day.
“My house hasn’t been broken into. My cars have never been broken into,” he said.
The worst hassle he has experienced is helping lost hikers find their way back to their cars, he said.
The Greenbelt Plan was started in 1977. The plan seeks to preserve open spaces and create a network of walking trails throughout the town.
Town Manager Michael McGovern announced Monday that the town had officially hired Portland lawyer Kenneth Cole to review the town’s role in a decades-long dispute between the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club and the abutting neighbors. Cole will present his report to the council on Sept. 5.