Voters face tiny tax increase

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MECHANIC FALLS – Voters at Saturday’s town meeting will be asked to approve combined school and municipal budgets totaling nearly $5.5 million.

If townspeople approve the budget as proposed, the tax rate will increase by 30 or 40 cents per $1,000 of valuation, provided there is no substantial increase in property valuation, according to Town Manager Dana Lee. The rate now is $18.90.

Lee, who is stepping down at the end of June after 15 years on the job, noted that this is only the third budget he has helped prepare that asks for new taxes.

The Town Council is asking voters to approve a spending increase above the limit of growth set by the Legislature in a tax-cap law passed last year. The towns limit of growth this year is $25,000, but the council is asking for $67,000 and the Budget Committee is recommending $53,000.

The law requires local voters to approve of any increase beyond the limit set by the state’s formula. The question will be decided by secret ballot at Saturday’s meeting.

The $25,000 increase wouldn’t even cover the increase in the cost of gas and oil, Lee said.

The total municipal budget of $1.77 million includes a request to use $130,000 from the town’s fund balance to pay for some one-time capital improvement projects.

Most of that money will be used for new roofs and heating systems for the public works and fire station buildings, a concrete pad at the transfer station and a police garage.

Elm Street School Principal Mary Martin noted that although the school’s overall budget request stands at $3.7 million, what’s being asked of local taxpayers is actually $34 less due to a $129,0000 increase in state subsidy.

“The School Committee worked with the Budget Committee to keep the impact on instruction down. There will be one less teacher at the Elm Street School next year,” said Martin.

The School Committee request and the Budget Committee recommendation to voters are identical.

Town meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at the Elm Street School gymnasium. The municipal election will be held when the meeting ends.

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