Oxford board keeps tax rate unchanged

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OXFORD — The Board of Selectmen voted Thursday night to set the 2018-19 tax rate at $14.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value, the same as last year.

Last year the rate went up $1.50, the first increase in 12 years.

Assessor agent Donna Hayes told the board the town picked up $14 million in new valuation, including $10 million in the tax-increment financing zone along the Route 26 business district.

There was another $250,000 from more excise taxes and Oxford Casino revenue, and $200,000 was transferred from the Fund Balance, which combined helped keep the tax rate at last year’s level.

While the news appeared to be good, several board members, including Vice Chairman Scott Hunter and Samantha Hewey, questioned the use of anticipated funds.

“We’re spending money we don’t have,” Hunter said. “It’s not fiscally responsible to sit there and gamble.“

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Hewey suggested the town “bank” more money as a cushion.

Town Manager Butch Asselin said, “It’s hard to create a savings account for something like this.”

Although the town budget expenses went down, the school and county assessments continue to increase, he said.

“We have to be optimistic,” he added.

In other news, Asselin said he is waiting for information on a proposal to fix leaks at the Thompson Lake dam. Meanwhile, gaps in the concrete will be filled in and sandbagging will be done.

A report on air quality and mold in the Town Office was received and recommendations made to alleviate concerns in some areas of the building, particularly the basement. Employees are being asked to be cautious about how much time they spend there.

The larger question of what the town should do with the former Oxford High School building is still to be answered, officials said.

Town Clerk Beth Olsen reported on her department activities, including developing electronic systems for records, reducing workers’ compensation costs significantly by creating a safety committee, providing the public with online registrations and tax payments, and continuing preserving town records.

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Selectman Samantha Hewey speaks at Thursday night’s board meeting about problems with the Town Office building on Pleasant Street. Employees have been advised not to spend too much time in the basement because of the air quality and mold. (Leslie Dixon/Advertiser Democrat)

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