TOPSHAM — Voters at Town Meeting Wednesday approved a $9.3 million municipal budget for next year, which reflects a 3.4 percent increase over current spending.
Of approximately 7,000 registered voters, 85 – or 1.2 percent – attended the Mt. Ararat High School Commons gathering. Residents approved all warrant articles at the nearly two-hour meeting, although one – concerning one of two dates property taxes are due each year – was amended from the recommendation on the warrant to remain the same.
The tax rate next year could rise about 60 cents from the current $17.96 per $1,000 of property tax valuation, Town Manager Rich Roedner told those in attendance, although that increase is a moving target because the town’s new valuation won’t be known until this summer.
“I think it’s safe to say that it’s very likely that increase will be smaller come August, when all of the value is compiled and calculated,” Roedner said.
Because there are only 52 pay periods in 2017, versus 53 in the current fiscal year, many of the departments showed budget decreases. But assessing expenses are up nearly 30 percent, or $32,400, largely due to the addition of a half-time employee to assist both the assessor and the finance office. Both are single-person departments.
The added help would, in part, allow the assessor enough time to visit each property every four years, which would provide the town more up-to-date real estate values, Roedner has said.
While property taxes are now due in Topsham the middle of every October and April during the July 1 to June 30 fiscal year, town officials proposed changing the April date to March 17 next year.
Roedner had originally requested the date be moved to the end of March, but selectmen suggested a mid-March date, more in line with the time of month in April when taxes have been due, according to board Chairman David Douglass.
As the town each year starts approaching February and March, “before any payments start to roll in, the town is always in kind of a slow-up period of being able to spend any of that money,” he explained. “Departments have to be told to slow their spending, only do what’s necessary, and it puts us in the position where at some point we may … have to borrow money for a … 30-day period and pay interest, to continue to pay our bills.”
Still, he said, “we can manage one way or the other how this goes.”
The change drew opposition from audience members concerned about the ability to pay a large amount of money a month early – particularly those who use income tax returns to make the payment. A proposed amendment to switch to March 31 was defeated, and a second change, back to the April date – in this case April 18, 2017 – was successful.