FARMINGTON — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday to set the tax rate at $19.94 per thousand of property evaluation, an increase of 66 cents over last year’s rate of $19.28.

A property valued at $100,000 will pay $1,994 in taxes compared to $1,928 last year, an increase of $66.

The Homestead Exemption program expanded again this year. It provides a reduction of up to $20,000 in the value of some homes for property tax purposes. Last year it was $15,000, and $10,000 in previous years, he said.

The tax increase allows for capturing $125,000 for the Downtown Tax Increment Financing District and raising about $28,000 for an overlay.

A 5 percent overlay, or about $20,000 to $30,000, is needed to cover when someone does not pay taxes, pays late or to abate a tax bill, said John E. O’Donnell of John E. O’Donnell & Associates Inc., the town’s assessor. 

There is some risk without the school budget being settled in terms of the overlay but not a huge one, O’Donnell said.

The TIF funds are needed for a sidewalk project in West Farmington that is about to go out to bid, said Town Manager Richard Davis.  

Last year’s appropriation of $125,000 to the Downtown District was nearly spent on building the Church Street parking lot, he said.

In other business, selectmen voted unanimously to propose purchasing self-contained breathing apparatus for the Fire Department with undesignated funds rather than using the fire equipment reserve account.  

The use of undesignated funds requires a town meeting vote, Davis said. One is expected this fall.

Fire Chief Terry Bell said the department’s breathing units were purchased in 2001 and 2002. The air pack includes the backpack, air bottles and mask. With a life expectancy of 15 years, the air bottles are out of service. The department received a loan of 40 bottles from a vendor to use for now, he said.

The department has applied for grants and was optimistic about a federal grant to purchase 20 air packs. The grant request was for approximately $138,000, he said.

The department is not likely to receive the grant, he said.  

The reserve account has about $191,000 but the next large purchase is expected in 2020 for replacement of a 1995 pumper, he said.

Budgeting $75,000 a year for the reserve account, the department planned to have the nearly half a million needed for the 2020 purchase and to borrow less money.

“We need to do something,” Bell said of the air packs for firefighter safety.

The majority of voters will likely support saving for future needs and using the undesignated funds for what is needed now, Selectman Michael Fogg said.

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