Falmouth looking at 4.5% property tax hike

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FALMOUTH — Property owners can expect a tax increase of 63 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in the 2016 fiscal year budget.

The 4.5 percent increase was outlined by Councilor Russell Anderson, who chairs the council finance committee, at a joint Town Council and School Board meeting on April 9.

Total expenditures would be nearly $46.2 million. The school portion, which the School Board approved April 6, accounts for nearly $33.3 million.

The general operating budget for the municipal side of the budget is just over $11.5 million, which represents an increase of nearly $110,000, or nearly 1 percent.

On the municipal end, the town had a 4-cent reduction in the mil rate, which Anderson credited in part to the new OceanView and natural gas tax increment financing district. The School Department’s impact is a 64-cent increase, and the Cumberland County share is a 3-cent increase.

The result is a tax rate of $14.73 per $1,000 of assessed value in the fiscal year that begins July 1, compared with $14.10 this year.

The tax rate on the municipal side went down by 1.3 percent. However, on the school side it will be going up nearly 5 percent. Last year’s school budget was $31.7 million, which included a 4.76 percent increase.

The Town Council will vote April 27 on the school budget, and the public school budget referendum will be on June 9.

Anderson said some of the challenges on the municipal side included a projected increase in health insurance costs of more than 10 percent next January; payroll increases; library cost increases of just over 7 percent; an additional Fire-EMS position, and increased retirement contributions, to the tune of more than 14 percent. Personnel expense increases, including health-care costs, retirement and wages, add up to just under $209,000 in the budget.

Anderson said there will also be a $15,000 program for species control next year, which will spend $10,000 on roadside eradication of invasive plant species and the remainder on species control in the town’s open spaces.

Anderson said Falmouth had several solutions for the budgetary challenges, including the TIF, reduced consulting fees as various projects are completed, and projected growth in non-property tax revenues, such as excise taxes.

Overall, he said the town is in “great financial shape,” with a AAA bond rating and the lowest overall mil rate of comparable communities in greater Portland. However, he said there is still the trend of decreasing state aid to face.

“How will we deal with that?” he asked toward the end of the meeting. “Will we blame Augusta and keep raising property taxes or find other answers?”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.