MECHANIC FALLS – School and town officials say they could be wrong when it comes to predicting the impact of the upcoming property tax referendum. In fact, they hope they are.

So Town Manager Dana Lee and Elm Street School Principal Mary Martin have invited the Budget Committee to take an independent look at town finances.

They’re posing the question, “What would you recommend if the tax cap passes?”

A task force, consisting primarily of Budget Committee members and possibly other town residents, will begin studying the referendum question, which would limit the property tax rate to 1 percent. Voters will decide the statewide issue in November.

The task force will gather data and crunch numbers in a series of public workshops beginning Aug. 25 and going through September.

“We’ve already said what we think,” said Lee. “We don’t want to sound like we’re running around claiming that the sky is falling. We want to be absolutely 100 percent credible.”

Lee sent a written invitation last week to Budget Committee members and asked for responses by today. Two members, Carl Beckett and Yvon Gilbert, have already agreed to serve on the task force.

“We don’t really know much about what we’re voting on,” said Beckett. “We’ve got to investigate what’s going to happen. We’ll just have to the play the cards as they come up.”

This year’s tax commitment for the town is about $2.45 million. Lee estimated that the town would be able to raise only about $1.28 million under the tax cap. Banking on an earlier Maine Supreme Judicial Court advisory, Lee dismissed the referendum’s requirement to roll back property values to 1996. He based his projections on this year’s values.

Lee estimated that the town’s full-time staff of 13 would go down to one, and that the school’s 61 full-time positions would fall to 43.

“I can understand people being cynical about our projections,” said Lee. “But we thought the Budget Committee members could give an independent look at the numbers.”

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