2015-08-28 / Community

Selectmen approve property tax rate

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Kennebunk selectmen have set the property tax rate for the current fiscal year at $15.30 per $100,000 of assessed value, up from the previous mil rate of $14.90.

The approved rate gives the town an overlay of $362,346. An overlay is the amount raised from taxation above what is needed to fund the town’s $31.4 million tax commitment. It is used to pay for approved tax abatements during the year, with anything left over at the end of the fiscal year June 30 swept into the town’s undesignated surplus, also known as the fund balance.

Selectmen were presented with three options for a new mil rate at their Aug. 11 meeting, including a mid-range choice that would have set the mil rate at $15.35, enough to raise $462,505 for the overlay.

Although he stressed that selectmen set the policy, and he “only administers it,” Finance Director Joel Downs seemed to favor that larger number.

“A smaller overlay is a more difficult thing to manage. That’s all there is to it,” he said. “We may see some challenges to valuations that might come in a little stronger than they have in past years, but we won’t know that until we issue tax bills.”

After receiving the annual tax bill, due to go out this week, taxpayers have 185 days to request an abatement if they feel the property assessment is incorrect.

Downs also pointed out that the town typically draws down between $500,000 and $1 million from its fund balance each year to pay for capital projects and equipment purchases.

According to Town Assessor Daniel Robinson, Kennebunk saw a town-wide increase in valuation this past year of $17.5 million, enough to net the town $270,000 in taxes on new development and increased valuations. However, the net increase in the tax commitment was $1.2 million.

Robinson noted that the $7.68 million needed from taxes to fund Kennebunk’s $11.75 million municipal budget was up 4.1 percent. Meanwhile, the school portion of the tax bill, at $21.7 million, was up 4.9 percent, while the amount sent to fund York County government, $1.3 million, represents an increase of 0.3 percent.

Kevin Donovan, chairman of the board of selectmen, moved to set Kennebunk’s mil rate at the $15.35 favored by Downs. However, only Selectman Christopher Cluff favored that plan. Cluff then joined the four remaining selectmen in voting to approve the $15.30 rate.

“I just can’t imagine we’re going to go though a year and nick away $362,000 in excess funds,” said Selectman Richard Morin, suggesting a smaller overlay than the amount preferred by Downs should be sufficient for the town’s needs.

After leaving his hand down while the yes votes were tallied, Donovan did not bother calling for the nays. Selectman Shiloh Schulte was not present for the vote.

The new mil rate will equate to an annual tax bill of $3,825 on a median single family home in Kennebunk, assessed at $250,000. That’s up $100 from the $3,725 that property owners would have paid last year.

Though it cost the overlay a little more than $100,000, the vote for the lower mil rate saved the hypothetical median taxpayer $12 for the year, as Robinson noted the tax bill on a $250,000 home at the $15.35 rate would have been $3,837.

Meanwhile, new Selectman Ed Karytko urged his peers to tow a hard fiscal line in the future, especially knowing Kennebunk’s mil rate is expected to jump $1.30 per $1,000 of valuation in 2018, adding $325 to the median tax bill, when the largest annual impact of RSU 21’s $56.5 school renovation bond comes due.

“I have to say in this next coming year I think it should be one of your top priorities, between us and the schools, to start trying to turn this mil rate back the other way, because when we get hit, with that $1.30 for the school, that puts the rate at $16.35, assuming no other increases, and we’re getting kind of scary, in my opinion.”

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