PITTSFIELD, Maine - Taking a conservative approach and anticipating an even harsher economy next year, town councilors Tuesday refused to raid the town’ s savings account to pay the increase in the county tax.
Instead, the board chose to raise the town’ s mill rate and leave the savings intact.
The action came after an appeal by D. Dwight Dogherty, former Pittsfield town manager and chairman of the Somerset County budget committee, and Philip Roy, chairman of the county commissioners.
Both men opposed the original recommendation by Town Manager Kathryn Ruth to take $200,000 from surplus to pay the county tax bill. Without the action, Ruth said, the town’ s mill rate could jump by 11 percent.
Ruth said the county tax bill for 2007-08 is $576,573. The tax due for half of this year is $151,490.
But Dogherty and Roy said that as high as this year’ s county tax bill is, next year’ s could be worse. This year, the county tax came in more than $200,000 higher than last year’ s, mostly because of construction of the $30 million jail and a change in the county’ s fiscal year that resulted in an 18-month bill.
“It is not a wise move to spend the surplus funds on this purpose,” Dogherty said. He and Roy explained that the option to pay the additional six-month bill over the next five years could be a less expensive move.
Since the county borrowed to cover that debt, Pittsfield and all other county towns and territories will share in the interest on that loan based on their percentage of the county taxes. Pittsfield’ s percentage is 5.05.
“The [Unorganized Territory’ s] valuation is rocketing sky high. Skowhegan’ s is rising. Your percentage could drop in future years,” Roy said. “You are not gaining anything by pre-paying. It doesn’ t make sense to take from surplus.”
Ruth then changed her recommendation to take $50,000 from surplus to keep the tax rate stable. But councilors balked, saying they needed to keep their savings intact.
“We need to leave that $50,000 there,” Councilor Michael Gray said. “We may need it next year. I’ m nervous.”
“You understand,” Ruth said, “that the taxes will go up.”
She said that the town had been very fortunate to have dropped three mills off the mill rate since 2004.
Both bills are due on or before Nov. 1 or interest will be charged, Ruth said.
Without taking the surplus amount, Ruth said the tax rate would increase from $21.80 per $1,000 valuation to $24.20.
In other business, the council:
? Approved a bid of $163,850 by Nickerson & O’ Day of Brewer for renovations to the Pittsfield Public Library. Building chairman Doug Frati said the bid was less than half of the anticipated cost of about $350,000.
“This is a very well-respected firm,” Frati said. The company representatives asked many questions and visited the library over the past two weeks, crawling around the basement with flashlights.
“Hopefully, this great bid bodes well for the next project,” Frati said.
The renovations will be funded partially through a $150,000 Community Development Block Grant.