SKOWHEGAN — An increase in the state homestead exemption on property taxes, a drop in the valuation at the Sappi paper mill, routine spending increases and a townwide revaluation all contributed to a slight rise in Skowhegan taxes this year.

Tax bills went out this week.

The tax rate has gone from $19.04 for every $1,000 in assessed property value to $20, Town Manager Christine Almand said.

The homestead exemption this year went from $15,000 to $20,000 statewide, meaning that a home valued for taxation at $150,000 will be assessed for taxes at $130,000. At the new tax rate, an owner of a $150,000 home will pay $2,600 in taxes this fiscal year. Last year the same homeowner paid $2,570.

Fifty percent of the loss incurred by the town is reimbursed by Maine Revenue Service. The other 50 percent makes the tax rate go up, according to the Skowhegan Board of Assessors.

The homestead exemption provides a reduction of up to $20,000 — it was $15,000 in 2016 and $10,000 for years prior to 2016 — in the value of a home for property tax purposes. To qualify, the homeowner must be a permanent resident of Maine.

“Basically what it does is it shifts the tax responsibility from a homeowner to anybody else that owns property in town — business owners, landlords,” Almand said. The result, she said, is about $4.4 million in reduced taxable valuation because of the homestead exemption increase.

In assessing the Sappi paper mill, assessors’ agent Bill Van Tuinen notes in minutes from the Oct. 17 meeting of the board that the agreement with the paper company says that the value for taxation can not exceed $380 million. Van Tuinen “in good faith” told board members that given depreciation at the mill, he would recommend assessing the property at $371 million, and board members agreed.

“There are a lot of things that went into account this year,” Almand said. “Not only the homestead change, but then we did a revaluation, so that may have increased or lowered the valuation — everybody’s going to fare differently.”

Almand said the money the town will need from taxes for expenses in the coming year — schools, county and town — also went up 6 percent. And because of the townwide revaluation, Almand said, the town needs to have a larger overlay, or reserve account, to accommodate possibly larger than normal tax abatement requests.

The overlay last year was $63,000. The overlay this year is going to be $146,723.

Ron Blaisdell, chairman of the Board of Assessors, also noted that the town gave Trinity Evangelical Free Church, which operates the men’s homeless shelter, a tax exemption on a house the church purchased a few years ago on West Front Street. The church was going to use the house for a family shelter and for worship services, so the exemption was in order, Blasidell said in meeting minutes.

The house since has been torn down, as Senior Pastor Richard Berry regroups on his plans for a family shelter. Blaisdell asked if the town now could tax the church because it is not doing what was called for in the exemption. Van Tuinen said if the board thinks it is not being used appropriately, then it can send the church a supplemental tax bill.

The board agreed that the matter should be put on the agenda for the next meeting.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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