HARPSWELL — Property taxes are going down.
At their July 26 meeting, the Board of Selectmen unanimously approved dropping the mil rate to $5.76 per $1,000 of assessed value, from the current rate of $5.80.
The change, which is retroactive for fiscal 2012 tax bills, is designed to provide the town with enough money to cover abatements, while keeping the tax rate affordable for residents.
Officials originally proposed setting the rate at either $5.80, $5.75 or $5.70, but the $5.76 rate gave them an even number for the overlay that wasn’t too skimpy.
“We thought the $5.76 gave us a very healthy overlay of $169,000,” Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said. “One of the points in choosing a mil rate is not to have fractional problems (because $5.74 and $5.75 did not come out even).”
Eiane said that if the town had elected to drop the mil rate to $5.70 there would not have been enough money in the overlay and officials felt more comfortable having slightly more overlay.
“Overlay is basically a term that is used in statistics, which allows the addition of money that can be asked of the taxpayer,” she said. “It allows you to build up a balance to cover abatements or supplements (to the budget).”
With the new mil rate, the average homeowner will pay about $1,750 in annual property taxes, based on average property values from 2009.
In other business, selectmen imposed more stringent guidelines on use of the Ash Point Community Library.
At the previous meeting of the board on July 12, Chairwoman Elinor Multer and Selectman Alison Hawkes were concerned that the Ash Point Community Library allowed groups to come into the library during its hours of operation.
They said the use of the library by outside groups, such as a “Mommy and Me” group, could disrupt typical library operations.
Library Board President Donna Frisoli confronted the board on July 26, but was rebuked by Multer.
“The question of your holding meetings during the hours when the library is open is a little troublesome, as it may discourage people from coming in and browsing the books and taking out books,” the chairwoman said. “The group, the activity, is a legitimate activity of a library, but should be scheduled on other hours.”
Frisoli responded that while the town owns the building, the library is private and its board should have the authority to decide who can use the library at what times. She also said that the one time an outside group came into the library, the board discussed it and told them it wasn’t an ideal situation and they would not be returning.
“These are the kinds of decisions that you have to entrust our board to be mature enough and intelligent enough to make the decision,” she said. “The more people we bring into the building, the more opportunity you’re going to have to rent the space.”
Hawkes said that, because of the small space, she was worried about the conflict group meetings create with library patrons.
“You may be a private group, but it is a public space and everybody has the right to use it,” she said.
Selectmen Jim Henderson said he is OK with other groups or library-sponsored programs using the building during library hours, as long as it does not disrupt other patrons.
Ultimately, selectmen unanimously approved amending Sections 9 and 10 of the lease. Section 9 of the new lease says that that the library cannot sublet its interest in the lease to outside parties and that the library may not be used for meetings and activities of other organizations or groups, formal or informal, other than activities or groups connected to the library.
Section 10 says that the tenant has permission to hold meetings of its Board of Directors or volunteers and to conduct sponsored programs at times other than when the library is scheduled to be open.
Multer also proposed that the town approach commercial real estate brokers about selling the West Harpswell School, or talking with the Greater Brunswick Housing Authority about turning it into senior housing.
“I would like to ask staff to contact them and see if we can have them come out and look at the building from the point of view of selling it,” she said. “And then I would like to reconnect with the Greater Brunswick Housing Authority since they expressed a definite and ongoing interest in possible use of the building for senior housing. I would like to limit it to senior housing.”
Hawkes said that she didn’t feel the prospects for the building should be limited and that the town should ask for a wider spectrum of ideas for development or sale of the property.
Henderson agreed, saying that, before the annual Town Meeting next March, there should only be a couple of choices for what will happen to the building.
“We should pare it down so that when it gets to Town Meeting time we’ll only have two options or something that we think is best,” he said. “We should try to see if we can find someone who can assess its value in community use, knowing all of the problems that we have with it and suggest potential uses or realistic options.”
Frisoli asked that the town look deeper into the idea of turning the building into a community center.
“The town voted for that building to be used for town activities,” she said. “I implore the selectmen to allow people to use that building. … I think bringing people into the building that way will either show that it has some viability, some use, or it doesn’t and let’s get rid of it. I think you need to listen to what the voters want to do.”