MEDWAY — Officials in this small northern Penobscot County town are taking a lot of heat from taxpayers who are upset about a 35 percent increase in their 1997 tax bills.
Telephones in the town office started ringing off the hook Friday with residents complaining about the new tax bills they’d just received.
“The telephones rang all day,” said Administrative Assistant Karen Olivieri.
The new tax rate is $27 per $1,000 of assessed property value, an increase of $7.10 compared with last year’s tax rate of $19.90. For an average home valued at $55,000, this year’s tax bill is $1,485, an increase of $390.50, or 35 percent, compared with last year’s bill of $1,094. Taxes are due by Dec. 31. After that date interest of 10.5 percent per annum will be charged.
Officials said the tax increase was caused by a need to raise more local funds to make up for a loss of state education subsidy. In addition, funds were included in the town budget to keep the town office open five days a week and to pay for road paving.
The 1997 tax rate is less than the estimated $8 increase officials had previously anticipated. Olivieri said the primary reason the increase in the tax rate was not as high as initially estimated was because the town’s total value had increased by about $4 million. Initially officials predicted it would increase by about $3 million.
Olivieri says the increase should come as no surprise to anyone who attended the June town meeting. “It [the estimated tax rate] was the first thing that came out of my mouth,” she said.
The annual town meeting in June appeared to have all of the makings for a real showdown. Hefty tax hikes and double-digit budget increases of past years had resulted in marathon town meetings where voters slashed the town and the school budgets to keep taxes down.
But this year’s meeting was different. There were no long debates. No tempers flared, and there were no major budget cuts. Early in the meeting, town officials told the crowd of more than 160 people that approval of the budgets would mean an estimated $8 increase in the town’s tax rate.
Officials were surprised that residents approved budgets without cutting them. They said people at the meeting said they were tired of watching their school buildings deteriorate and the pupils’ programs being cut. Officials, who were forced to close the town office one day a week because of the 1996 budget cuts, said people also wanted it open five days a week, wanted a town recreation program and wanted the highway department to have enough funds to sand and plow their roads in the winter months.