Council gets earful

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LEWISTON – David Girard is aghast – his property value has nearly tripled in Lewiston’s latest property revaluation.

“A house does not go from $39,000 to $110,000,” Girard, of 39 Fisher Ave., told city councilors Tuesday. “That just does not happen.”

He vowed to lead a recall effort aimed at every city councilor, Mayor Lionel Guay, and several city employees.

“So go ahead. Smile, Mr. Guay,” Girard said. “Smile, all of you. Your time up there is limited. You stabbed Lewiston in the back.”

The 40 other people at Tuesday’s City Council meeting might not have been as vocal as Girard, but they were equally upset by the property-value notices that arrived in their mailboxes last weekend.

“I don’t know how I’m going to make it now,” said Pierre Renault of 313 Ferry Road. “I’m out of money. You’ve tapped us out with these taxes, and right on top of the highest oil bills ever.”

Notices showing tax increases for five of every six residential properties were mailed out last week.

Overall, values for residential properties are up 108 percent. Values for the city as a whole – including residential and commercial land – increased by 62 percent.

That demonstrates a shift in the tax burden, from businesses onto residential property owners, according to City Administrator Jim Bennett.

Bennett insisted that the revaluation notices were not perfect. He urged anyone who doubts the new values to schedule a review with assessors. Those reviews are scheduled to begin today in the Lewiston Armory.

“I’ve already found five or six mistakes on my own,” Bennett said.

The informal hearing will continue for the next three weeks and beyond, if necessary, Bennett said. Property owners can schedule a meeting by calling 784-2956, ext. 531.

Councilors are scheduled to meet again Thursday to discuss the city’s budget and the proposed $40.6 million in property taxes to fund it. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Councilors have until the end of May to adopt a budget.

Bennett said that the city’s tax rate and its property tax collections are not increasing. As it stands, the total property-tax collection is expected to be $40.6 million. Considering new commercial and real estate development, that’s the same amount the city collected last year.

Last year’s tax rate was $27.35 for every $1,000 of value. The proposed new rate, based on the revaluation, would be $17.20. To go lower would mean cuts.

“If your taxes went up 50 percent, you’d need a $20 million cut in the budget to get back to where you were,” Bennett said. “I just don’t see that happening.”

Guay agreed. He said councilors will likely trim the budget some, but not enough for a dramatic change.

“I don’t want anyone leaving here this evening thinking the tax rate will be down to $12, because that won’t happen,” Guay said. “There will be reductions, but they’re going to be minimal.”

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