April 08, 2020

Glitch blamed for late tax bills in Belfast

BELFAST – City Manager Terry St. Peter blamed a computer glitch for the delayed mailing of the 2006 property tax bills, but said the city has to improve on getting the bills out sooner.

It was not too long ago that the tax bills were mailed to city property owners at the end of July. Over the past decade, however, the bills have been delayed until September. This is the first year they were put off until October.

Residents have until the end of the month to pay their tax bills before interest begins to accrue.

St. Peter said Tuesday that City Assessor Robert Whiteley had been told “on numerous occasions” to strive to tabulate the tax commitment sooner. Whiteley cannot begin figuring the tax rate until the SAD 34 budget is passed in June. He then has to add the values of all new sales, major improvements to buildings and construction to the mix.

Whiteley established the mill rate $19.30 per $1,000 in valuation at the beginning of last month, but problems with the city’s computer program delayed the bills from going out on time, the manager said. St. Peter said the program was unable to distinguish the homestead exemption given to certain property owners.

“We need more internal discipline,” St. Peter said. “It’s his responsibility to complete the valuation in a timely way.”

St. Peter, who will step down as manager when he retires to enter the private sector in June, said one of his last acts as manager will be to ensure that the tax bills go out on time. He said the bills should be mailed by early September. Because he will be long gone by then, it would be up to the predecessor to make sure the city holds to that schedule, he acknowledged.

The $19.30 tax rate represents a 7.22 percent increase over last year’s $18 per $1,000 rate. As taxes continue to rise in the city, so does the cost of buying a home. Whiteley said that the average price for a home has more than doubled in the past five years.

“That is based on totally arms-length sales,” Whiteley said Tuesday.

Where the average price for a home was $115,708 in 2000, the average price jumped to $259,532 in 2005. The assessor’s office based its average figure on the 182 sales that occurred in 2000 compared with the 146 sales last year.

In 1995, the average price of a home was $82,100. That was the same year MBNA located in the Belfast and the city recorded a record 219 home sales that year.

“I expect that was driven in part by speculation,” Whiteley said. “We’ll never see numbers like that again.”

The average price of a home in 1996 was $82,500; in 1997 the average jumped to $112,500; in 1998 it dropped to $95,600; then jumped again in 1999 to $118,308. Prices continued to increase throughout the first half of the decade. In 2001 the average was $130,123; in 2002 it jumped to $146,644; followed by an average of $195,720 in 2003; and down to $182,325 in 2004.

Sales were up and down during the past 10 years beginning with the high of 219 in 1995 and the low of 146 sales last year. In 1996, the city recorded 170 sales. There were 161 home sales in 1997, 175 sales in 1998, 160 sales in 1999, 182 sales in 2000, 164 sales in 2001, 155 sales in 2002, 177 sales in 2003 and 175 sales in 2004.

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