MEXICO — The Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday evening to schedule a special meeting at 7 p.m. April 30 to vote on whether to accept a tax ordinance proposed by resident Albert Aniel.
Aniel told selectmen his ordinance petition has been signed by “about 135 people.”
“My ordinance proposes capping the operating cost of the town to the amount of $2,726,731, which is a 10 percent decrease in the previous year's operating town cost,” he said. “It also asks that this ordinance be locked in for a period of five years, so after five years, if we're back into booming times, maybe we can increase the operating budget again.”
The reason for the ordinance, Aniel said, is due to the tax increases the town has experienced over the past few years.
“The Maine Revenue Services says Mexico has the highest mill rate in the entire state for the last four years,” Aniel said, “and a lot of people have seen their property taxes go up 50 percent in the last three years. Realtors will tell you that some properties are 30 percent overvalued. There are over $300,000 in unpaid taxes," he said.
“I honestly believe that our high property taxes are an economic disincentive for our area,” Aniel continued. “I don't think it's going to encourage people to come here when they face the highest mill rate in the state, or encourage enterprises and businesses to move here. Why should they?”
Aniel told the board that “the $2,726,731 I'm proposing was probably the operating cost about three or four years ago.
“If I recall correctly, the earth didn't stand still,” Aniel said. “The angels didn't blow their trumpets. We were still able to live. Now is the time to do something about it. You guys honestly haven't acted on it for the past four years, and taxes keep going up and up. It's time to approve this and lock it in for five years.”
Selectman Byron Ouellette said he supported the idea, and a change had to be made.
“Here we are, a poor little town, trying to live up to the standards of the big town next to us,” Ouellette said. “That's the way it's always been. We'll have to start thinking about reducing services somewhere, and this will just force us to do it and start living within our means.”
Chairman Richie Philbrick suggested the board send the proposed tax ordinance to the town lawyer to make sure it's legal.
“I'm not saying you didn't do your homework,” Philbrick told Aniel, “but I just want to make sure everything is all set.”
Resident Wesley Raynor pointed out to the board that Aniel had a lawyer who used to work for the Maine Municipal Association draft the ordinance, and it was unlikely the town lawyer would have a dissenting opinion.
Selectman Reggie Arsenault asked Aniel where he suggested that the board cut money.
“You've been sitting on those chairs long enough,” Aniel said, “so you should know where to cut. It's not up to me to tell you where.”
“No, you're the one who presented, and I want to know what your plans would be to cut things down,” Arsenault replied. “We're down to four days a week at the town office and a five-man crew for our highway. Where would you suggest cutting?”
Aniel suggested the board shut down the Recreation Center for an additional month, while a resident suggested that the Recreation Center close for the winter to save money.
“Maybe the town office should operate for three days a week rather than four,” Aniel added. “The bottom line is, you need to look at everything. It's not my job to tell you where to cut. I'm just telling you that we can no longer keep having our taxes go up and up.”
Selectman Peter Merrill said he sees the point of the proposed ordinance, but believes taxpayers should be showing up at board meetings and budget meetings to share their feelings.
Aniel told Merrill that many residents are elderly and feel intimidated by showing up at the meetings and speaking their mind.
Town Manager John Madigan said he would have the Maine Municipal Association look at the proposal, but he had a feeling that “they will say it's unconstitutional.”
“How can you pass an ordinance that restricts the selectmen, who are the chief executives of the town, from advising the citizens that, 'This is what we recommend you do?'” Madigan asked Aniel. “Otherwise, we can't take care of the town. You can't do that.
“The town can say 'yes' or 'no' every year, when we present them with the budget. It's the selectmen's job to present people with a budget that maintains the services they know we have, and if they don't want a certain service, they can vote 'no' every year, and that's the end of that service.”
Philbrick said the board should “do justice” to the petition by considering it.
“They did collect the signatures, so we should give them the benefit of the doubt,” Philbrick said.
As the meeting came to an end, Raynor told selectmen he would volunteer his time to meet with them and come up with ideas of where to cut.
“It won't be enjoyable, but it needs to happen,” Raynor said. “There are some sacred cows you'll have to give up, but that's the way things are.”
Aniel said if his ordinance is accepted by selectmen, he hopes it will be on the warrant for the annual town meeting in June.