WATERVILLE — A former city councilor lambasted current councilors Tuesday for an increase this year in property tax bills for most residents, saying councilors should be ashamed of themselves because the elderly and those on fixed incomes cannot afford a tax hike.

Councilors and some residents defended the council’s spending, saying the city has no control over cost increases for items such as insurance and energy, and the city needed to conduct a property revaluation that helped drive tax bill increases.

Former Waterville City Councilor Phil Bofia. Contributed photo

The City Council in June approved a $56.3 million municipal and school budget for 2023-24 that reflects a $2.5 million increase, although the tax rate of $25.85 per $1,000 of assessed valuation decreased to $19.90.

Former Councilor Phil Bofia told councilors they lacked the courage to hold the line on spending and say “no” to department heads. He said he has not had a pay increase in three years, but has to come up with money to pay his property tax bill. He complained his property assessment went up as part of the revaluation, but that did not put money into his pocket.

“Your job is to make sure that people in this city live a decent life,” Bofia said.

Before the tax rate decreased, a property owner with land valued at $100,000 would pay $1,990 in taxes. But with the revaluation, that land would about double to $200,000, resulting in a tax bill of $3,980, although that does not take into consideration exemptions, such as the homestead exemption, that benefit many residents.


Mayor Jay Coelho said he was not sure where Bofia, whom he defeated three years ago in the mayoral race, thinks the city and council did not take responsibility for the budget. The council, Coelho said, had to increase pay for police and firefighters, who in some cases were making a little more than $15 an hour, which is comparable to what some fast-food workers earn.

There has not been much of an increase in taxes over the past three years, Coelho said, and city employees are earning in the 75th percentile of what private sector workers in comparable positions make.

“Where did you want us to cut and still be able to pay people to do the work for the services that you required?” Coelho asked Bofia.

Councilor Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, told Bofia he was incorrect in claiming councilors did not show courage.

“The people on this council talked long hours and thought very closely about the budget and the impact it was going to have on this community,” Klepach said.

He said he spent the month of July helping fourth and fifth graders at a math enrichment camp, and the children have tremendous and historic deficits because of COVID-19’s impact and from long-term trends exacerbated by the pandemic.


Students need every resource the city can provide, he said, and retaining hard-working employees who provide services is critical, according to Klepach. Budget discussions were difficult and decisions hard to make, he said.

“I’m proud of that budget,” Klepach said. “Nothing in that budget felt wasteful to me.”

Former Mayor Karen Heck said she understands the frustration with taxes and that no one likes to pay them, but they are necessary to cover services. She thanked police Chief William Bonney and councilors for putting a new community outreach coordinator for the Police Department into the budget, saying Todd Stevens, who is in that role, recently helped organize an event that included 60 community partners who connected homeless people and those with low incomes to a variety of services.

“I want to thank you all for being willing to put into the budget something that has made a difference, that makes Waterville stand out,” Heck said.

She recommended forming a fire district in which communities could work together and save money by doing so. The same could be done with area schools, according to Heck.

“Combining forces and combining services is one way we could actually make a difference in the tax rate in this area,” she said.


Resident Keith Beal suggested the city charge property owners incrementally for tax increases to help alleviate the burden, charging a third of the increase the first year, a third the second and the rest in the third year.

In other matters, city councilors voted unanimously to approve a $114,885 contract with LensLock Inc., a Florida-based company, to buy body-worn cameras for the Police Department. Funding for the body cameras will come from a 2021-22 bond. The department has been asking for the cameras since 2021. Bonney said the department intends to buy 24 cameras, one for every patrol officer and patrol sergeant.

Councilors also took a final vote to rezone part of 180 West River Road, south of Vining Drive, from Institutional to Solar Farm District, and 265 and 267 West River Road from Residential-B to Solar Farm District, to allow Thomas College to build solar arrays.

They also voted to rezone part of 150 Kennedy Memorial Drive from Commercial-C to Airport Industrial to allow Price Enterprises LLC to build a solar farm.

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