MILLINOCKET, Maine — Three Town Council members would love to see Millinocket property taxes unchanged next fiscal year. Two others want to see the property tax rate reduced to $27 per $1,000 in assessed valuation.
And nobody wants property taxes to increase.
Town Manager Peggy Daigle asked councilors to set their financial goals during their most recent meeting to give her something to shoot for as she begins to shape the town’s 2015-16 fiscal budget, which will go into effect on July 1.
She also wanted to issue residents another warning that the town faces some tough choices.
“If we don’t do some budget reductions, we are heading toward a 40 mill rate,” Daigle said Thursday.
Under the town’s present 29.6 mill rate, the tax on a $50,000 property is $1,480. At 40 mills, the tax on the same property would be $2,000, and at 27 mills, the tax on the same property would be $1,350. By comparison, the statewide average adjusted property tax rate was $13.99 in 2012, the most recent year statewide figures were available.
Town councilors Michael Madore, Gilda Stratton and Bryant Davis want the tax rate to remain stable next year, while councilors Anita Mueller and Richard Theriault want them to decline somewhat, if possible.
Just as unpalatable as a tax increase to councilors is the $1.5 million to $2 million in town budget cuts that Daigle estimated the council will need to make to maintain the 29.6 mill rate. The school system would have to make about the same in cuts, Daigle said, after having cut almost $550,000 to get its budget to about $5.6 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Councilors have already cut the municipal budget from $6.72 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year to $5.80 million in this fiscal year. Revenues have declined from $2.8 million to $2.52 million over the same period, according to a statistical history Daigle provided councilors.
Millinocket’s population declined from about 7,000 in 1990 to 4,500 in 2010, the Katahdin region’s unemployment rate typically runs double the state average, and the valuation of the former Great Northern Paper Co. mill, which was once the town’s largest single taxpayer, declined from $78.8 million in 2012-13 to $46.7 million this year to what will be $3.1 million next year, according to a statistical history Daigle provided councilors.
As options, Daigle suggested the town eliminate one administrative clerk’s position; leave vacant two police positions, including the department’s detective; reduce the Fire Department by two positions and leave any other vacancies unfilled; contract emergency medical service to East Millinocket and privatize airport operations.
The Recreation Department could eliminate all offerings except the swimming pool in summer and the administration of snowmobile trail grants that are crucial to the region’s recreational tourism offerings and run the town library by donations and with volunteers, Daigle said. The town also could eliminate all except state-funded road paving for another year and forgo any capital purchases.
Theriault said he supported a 27 mill rate because “if we have a target of 27, we might just make 29.6.” He feared that setting a target mill rate of 29.6 would likely leave the town with a 30-plus mill rate because councilors usually hear at least one story during a budget cycle that tugs enough at heartstrings to loosen purse strings.
Budget deliberations usually begin in late February or March.