County Commissioners (from left) Paul Adams, Norman Fournier and Paul Underwood review the list of Aroostook ARPA fund recipients during a June 2022 meeting. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

Aroostook County will allow a small town with big debt an extra month to pay its 2022 tax bill before considering other measures to collect the money.

County commissioners voted unanimously at a Wednesday afternoon meeting held in Sinclair to allow Fort Fairfield until Jan. 31, 2023, to pay the $277,208.80 county tax bill.

Fort Fairfield interim manager Dan Foster had requested the extension on behalf of the town, which has been dealing with financial issues for several months. If the town cannot come up with the money in time, the county can require it to sell public land to raise the funds.

County administrator Ryan D. Pelletier said Foster’s request did not include a waiver of interest.

“You probably heard or saw the news — the town of Fort Fairfield is in a financial situation right now,” Pelletier told the commissioners.

A recent audit shows that as of June 30, 2022 — the end of the town’s fiscal year — Fort Fairfield had only $199,000 in the bank and $875,000 in outstanding short-term debt. On June 30, 2020, the town had $946,000 in the bank with no outstanding short-term debt. With another $400,000 borrowed in July 2022, the town’s short-term debt totals $1,275,000.

Foster, who previously served as Fort Fairfield town manager,  recently stepped back into the role when former town manager Andrea Powers resigned from the position.

Powers left amid accusations she had not provided accurate and timely budget information to Fort Fairfield town councilors. Some people blamed the new ambulance service for the town’s budgetary woes, and a group of residents established a budget advisory committee to help oversee money management.

Pelletier said there is a legal process that would occur if the extension was not granted and Fort Fairfield failed to pay the tax bill by the Dec. 31, 2022, deadline.

The county treasurer would be required to notify the sheriff who would then serve a warrant on the town. If the bill was not satisfied, public property belonging to the town would go up for auction to satisfy the debt.

“We’re trying to avoid that,” Pelletier said.

Reporter Melissa Lizotte contributed to this report.