PHILLIPS — Selectmen elected Lincoln Haines as board chairman Tuesday night.
They also welcomed new Selectman Ray Gaudette to their first meeting of the new year.
One of the biggest challenges will be dealing with foreclosed properties, Town Manager Elaine Hubbard said. The town’s property tax rate has down from $17.50 to $16.20 per $1,000 of valuation in the past year. However, properties in foreclosure must be sold if owners do not pay back taxes and one year of taxes in advance.
“We have one property owner with five properties in foreclosure, and three others with one property each,” she said. “We usually have the same people every year, and most often, people pay enough on the last day to avoid having us take action.”
Property tax bills are sent in September and in April, and some people pay a small amount monthly throughout the year, she said. If a property owner has not paid the previous year’s taxes by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, the town will place a lien on the property. The taxpayer has 18 months from the date of the lien to pay taxes, she said, so the process to foreclose can be lengthy. The automatic foreclosure process on Jan. 2 requires the town manager and selectmen to make tough decisions that affect friends and neighbors, she said.
“We do not want to take people’s property,” Hubbard said. “We are not in the real estate business.”
Hubbard also noted that if proposed legislation from Gov. Paul LePage is enacted, the town could lose $22,000 in commercial excise taxes. LePage’s proposal, she said, would capture revenues currently collected by municipalities.
In other news, resident Dennis Hanson, who lives on High Street, asked selectmen to consider discontinuing the street as a town road. According to Hubbard, Hanson will contact those residents for support, and selectmen will seek advice from Maine Municipal Association to learn the procedures to pursue the option. They will also seek advice from the Maine Department of Transportation. A half-dozen homes are on the road, Hubbard said, not all are occupied.
“It is extremely dangerous for our plow drivers, because the visibility is poor,” she said.
Residents will be invited to any future public hearing, but selectmen retain the final authority to make the decision.
Hubbard also noted that residents could attend a 4 p.m. meeting thursday, Jan. 10, at the Phillips’ post office. A Postal service representative will gather information about proposed changes to hours and days of operation, and possibly, even the location of the post office.