MEXICO — A local man is planning to present a tax petition to the Board of Selectmen on April 23, asking for a cap on the town's operating expenses.
Albert Aniel of Mexico said Thursday afternoon that he and a lawyer who used to work for the Maine Municipal Association drafted an ordinance that would put a cap on the town's operating expenses due to the tax increases over the last few years.
“In the past 20 years or so, the population of Mexico has decreased by about 60 percent,” Aniel said, “and the taxes over the past few years have gone up 50 percent. Right now, the town has over $300,000 of unpaid taxes on the books, and, furthermore, we may not get the revenue sharing from the state. In all, that may be $400,000 that the town is responsible for.”
He said the town “has the highest mill rate of all the towns in Maine for the past four years.”
The plan to put a cap on operating expenses would be a “10 percent decrease over last year's budget,” according to Aniel, with hopes to lock the plan in for five years.
Aniel's ordinance proposal comes a week after the Rumford Board of Selectmen unanimously voted against a tax cap petition submitted by former Selectman Mark Belanger. The petition sought to create an ordinance to cap the property tax rate at $17.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for each fiscal year, beginning July 1.
“It's my understanding the folks in Rumford who submitted the petition wanted to put a cap on the mill rate,” Aniel said. “You can't do that, but you can put a cap on the operating expenses of the town.”
Aniel said his ordinance does not “attempt to govern taxation or the power over taxation. The only thing it does is address the budget proposal process, not the taxation part.
“The operating costs of the town are obviously raised through taxation," he said. "We're not limiting the power of selectmen to tax, but we're asking for a cap on the operating costs. If we were to ask for a cap on the mill rate, we'd be interfering with the Legislature, since there would be two legislative bodies dictating what's what, and only the state is allowed to do that.”
Aniel's lawyer also said there is currently no state law that limits the ability of municipalities to enact local measures to limit their spending or regulate their budget process.
“In other words, we have the right to put a cap on the amount,” Aniel said. “The selectmen can still do whatever they want, in terms of where money needs to be allocated, but we, the people, have the ability to put a limit on the operating costs of the town.”
In order to be placed before the board, Aniel's ordinance required 108 signatures; he got 133.
“I've gotten some real good feedback from the people,” Aniel said.
He said he's been working on the ordinance for the past six months and was driven to do so by the selectmen “not being proactive in reducing costs.”
“They have let costs escalate,” Aniel said. “There are certain things that need to be ensured, and certain services absolutely needed and required, but there are some services that are maybe not critical to the operation of the town, and maybe those can be looked at.”
Aniel said if his ordinance is accepted by selectmen, he hopes it will be on the warrant for the annual town meeting in June.