DOVER-FOXCROFT – High tax rates, dwindling population and a loss of local jobs are driving more Maine communities to consider deorganizing.
The tax rates in Maine’s 433 townships, which average between $6.38 and $11.26 per $1,000 valuation, are an appealing draw for residents in communities where the tax rate is $20 or more per $1,000 valuation.
There are 12 counties with townships in them, representing about half of Maine’s land. County commissioners serve as administrators for the townships, which have a combined year-round population of 8,000 and about 24,000 nonresidents.
Since 1992, 11 Maine communities started the process of deorganizing, but only three – Greenfield, Madrid and Cooper – voted to become deorganized.
Cooper residents later withdrew their decision when they discovered they had no say in where their children would be educated. Atkinson completed the deorganization process last year but was unable to get the percentage of votes needed in a referendum to change its form of government.
Now, two Piscataquis County towns are investigating the possibility of deorganizing.
The town of Shirley will hold an informational meeting at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, at the Town Hall, when representatives of the Land Use Regulatory Commission, the Bureau of Taxation, the Department of Education and the Department of Audit will discuss deorganization.
And officials in Milo, where the mill rate is $25 per $1,000 valuation this year with no relief in sight, are looking at all avenues to reduce taxes, including deorganization, according to Town Manager Jane Jones.
Doreen Sheive, fiscal administrator for the unorganized territories, said Friday that she was concerned that larger towns are considering deorganization.
“It makes you wonder what town will be next,” she said.
Sheive said many people believe taxpayers in the townships are not paying their fair share. In reality, they pay for each service.
The combined tax bill for the townships is more than $16 million a year, she said. Of that, nearly $2.7 million is for county taxes, $4.1 million for services provided through the counties, and $9.3 million for education.
The townships do not get tree growth reimbursement or school subsidy.
For Jones of Milo, it is difficult to explain to residents why 100 feet over the property line in Orneville, residents enjoy a tax rate of about $8 per $1,000 valuation when they receive the same services as Milo residents, who may be facing a mill rate of $27 per $1,000 valuation in 2003.
How the towns are assessed is one sore spot for some town officials. While towns are required to assess property at 100 percent valuation, the state assesses less than 100 percent in many townships. This becomes a deterrent for anyone thinking about building a new home in surrounding organized towns.
“We try and visit all townships at least once every five years,” said Bob Doiron, supervisor of the property tax division of Maine Internal Revenue Services. Towns with more populous areas are visited more frequently, he said.
However, the state does not have enough staff to do annual assessing and must rely on a self-reporting method in townships.
Because the state recently did a revaluation of buildings, the total valuation of the townships increased about $73 million from 2002 to 2003. Because no new services were added, that new valuation reduced the mill rate for townships in all but Washington County.
That bothers Jones, who said towns were subsidizing services in the townships. Milo provides voting services for the 143 registered voters in Orneville and those votes must be counted separately because the township is in a different district. The residents also can register animals and vehicles in Milo, which require separate books and audits – all at no cost to the township.
Residents in townships also do not share in the cost of economic development efforts that benefit them.
“There’s got to be a way for us to fairly assess just compensation for us serving the residents of Orneville,” just as there must be a way for other service center communities to be compensated, Jones said.