OAKLAND — A petition for a property tax freeze in town has gained more than enough signatures to be included on the November ballot, and will be presented to the Town Council within a couple of weeks, organizers said.

The petition is one of two being circulated by a group of residents, according to Anne Hammond, who helped to write them. The second petition calls for public meetings to be recorded and made available for review.

Hammond said the motivations behind the petitions come from a sense that the town government is not responsive to the opinions of the voters.

“People are pretty angry,” she said. “They just don’t feel that anyone’s listening to them.”

Hammond said that more than 400 signatures have been collected, far more than the 278 signatures needed.

Town Clerk Janice Porter said she will verify signatures until she reaches the 278 needed, and that Town Manager Peter Nielsen would likely review the language with the town attorney to ensure its legality.

The petition would place a four-year moratorium on property tax increases, with the exception of disasters and emergencies.

Signatures were gathered at the Mobil station, the post office and the transfer station, among other places, Hammond said. She said that the group plans to do another petition drive this Saturday.

“We’re trying to send a message,” she said.

Police logs show that on Saturday, police responded to a complaint that petitioners were slowing traffic at the transfer station. When an officer notified them of the problem, the petitioners moved, according to the log.

People who signed the petition were supportive of the freeze, although some were unclear on the details.

“I didn’t actually understand what I was signing,” said resident Anne Hosea. “I don’t think they really explained it that well.”

Still, she does support the idea of freezing property taxes.

Steve Blake, of Blake Family Hardware, said that he’s been making the petitions available to his customers.

While he supports a tax freeze, he said that the town is generally responsible with taxpayer money.

“I think they’re trying their best,” he said. “I don’t see that they’re being foolish with regards to expenses.”

Despite that, he said, the town needs a hard limit to its spending. “It’s just a matter of trying to hold their feet to the fire,” he said.

Project angers voters

One issue that kept surfacing in discussions with those who signed the petition was a proposed new municipal center to combine police, fire and administrative services into a single building.

“A number of people brought that up,” Hammond said. “They were really angry.”

In November, voters rejected a $4.9 million proposal that had been developed by the Building Study Committee over a two-year period.

After the defeat, committee members considered bringing a scaled-back version of the project before voters and the town mailed out a survey asking voters what their main objections were.

“That was shut down quite soundly and they immediately went back out again to try to push it,” said Blake. “They’re trying to repackage it as a smaller entity.”

Nielsen said that the town is not trying to push the plan against the will of voters.

“They can rest easy that that’s not the case,” he said.

The study committee considered scaling back the proposal by removing features in the project, and came up with a version that was $560,000 less than the one that was defeated at the polls.

Ultimately, it decided not to bring the scaled-back version to voters in November.

“The town council accepted our report and the people are not going to be asked in November to vote on the question again,” he said. “If that’s forcing it down the peoples’ throat, then I stand guilty as charged.”

Nielsen said that it’s unclear how long the vote should be considered the will of the town.

“I wouldn’t call it a dead issue, because the needs remain, as they did when the council appointed the committee in 2009,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen said that he believes that the poor economy has taxpayers being more mindful of their wallets. Even so, existing municipal facilities are not getting any better, he said.

“What we have is energy-inefficient buildings that lack handicap accessibility, and that lack functional capability for the needs of existing police and fire departments,” Nielsen said.

Property taxes

The tax rate is $13.05, and has increased by $1.05, or 9.2 percent, during the four-year period from 2008 to 2011, according to Doug Mather, the town’s finance director.

A home valued at $100,000 would cost $1,305 in property taxes for the upcoming year.

On average, property owners in Oakland pay less than others around the state.

For the fiscal year ending in 2010, the most recent year on record, the state’s average tax rate was $12.78, as compared to $12.2 in Oakland, according to Mather.

Mather stressed that the town’s budget is responsible for only a fraction of the property tax rate.

“About a third of that is for the town’s services,” Mather said. “About 60 percent is for schools and about 7 percent is for Kennebec County.”

The town budget for the current fiscal year is $4,389,982, an increase of $63,175, or 1.46 percent, over last year’s budget of $4.3 million.

Mather said that the increase could be largely attributed to a $50,000 allocation to the municipal building reserve.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

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