BELGRADE — The town’s tax rate will increase by up to 80 cents if selectmen approve recommendations made by its assessor.

Tabled during Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, selectmen will take up adoption of the 2019-2020 tax rate during a special meeting with the tax assessor at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

“I need to have some kind of justification to people whose taxes are going up an entire mill,” Selectperson Melanie Jewell said. 

The 2018-2019 tax rate is $14.60 per $1,000 of assessed property value. On a property valued at $150,000, the year’s tax would be $2,190 before any exemptions.

The tax assessor, Rob Duplisea, of RJD Appraisal, who was not present at Tuesday’s meeting, offered three possible outcomes for the tax rate. 

The rate he recommended is $15.40 per $1,000 of assessed property value. This would represent a 5.48% increase. The tax on a $150,000 property before exemptions would be $2,310.

The most expensive option would be $15.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a 6.16% increase. At that rate, before exemptions, the tax would be $2,325 on a $150,000 property.

The lowest tax rate the assessor presented was $15.35 per $1,000 of assessed property value — a 5.14% increase — and the tax would be $2,302.5 on a property valued at $150,000 before exemptions.

Belgrade Town Manager Anthony Wilson is sworn in by Clerk Cheryl Mitchell during the July 16 Selectboard meeting. Selectperson Melanie Jewell is seated. Kennebec Journal photo by Abigail Austin

Jewel discussed applying money — possibly from the undesignated fund balance — the town already has collected to lower the tax commitment. 

“It decreases the overall amount because the taxpayers have already raised that money and set that money aside,” she said. 

The amount the town is committing to raising for the 2019-2020 fiscal year is $8,747,280, about 5% more than last year, according to new Town Manager Anthony Wilson.  

“(The tax assessor’s) recommendation is that it is not a good financial policy (to spend from the undesignated fund),” Wilson told selectmen, “because essentially what you’re doing is paying for operating expenses out of your savings account; it’s akin to buying your groceries with your credit card.”

When discussing whether the town had three months’ of operating funds in the undesignated fund, treasurer Mary Vogel told the board, “We don’t have that.”

Municipal spending is increasing after voters approved a budget of $3,356,980 during Town Meeting in March. That was an increase of $139,078 — or 4.3% — from the 2018-2019 budget, which was $3,217,902. 

Both the Regional School Unit 18 and Kennebec County budgets also saw an increase. The county budget is $12,564,612, up by 2.73%, or $334,000. 

RSU 18’s $38,655,456 budget went up $1,075,066, or 2.86%. Belgrade is shouldering the largest chunk of the school budget, at 16.72%, or roughly $6,465,058.

“There’s a saying that I grew up with: ‘You have got to face reality,’” said Ernst Merckens, vice chairperson of the Select Board.  “The reality is, this is what this stuff costs. I wish I could keep the tax rate flat, but it can’t happen.” 

The tax commitment was postponed until the new town manager was sworn into office. Had it been done previously, the town would have to recommit under the new manager.

Vogel stressed the urgency to selectmen to set the mill rate because the town had bills that were due. 

The Select Board meeting was the first for Wilson, who started July 15. 

A lifelong Texan, Wilson brings to the town 12 years of experience in municipal government. He previously worked for the city of San Angelo, Texas, a city with a population of slightly more than 100,000 people about two hours southeast of Midland. 

Wilson was sworn in to the position during the meeting when the board approved his contract, 4-1. Selectperson Rick Damren opposed the contract. 

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