STRONG — Taxpayers should expect to see at least a $2 increase per $1,000 of property valuation in their August tax bills, based on the approved town budget and the school district assessment.

At their Tuesday night meeting, selectmen voted 2-2 on calling a July 16 special town meeting to ask for an additional $100,000 from the surplus fund to offset part of the increase.

Selectman Jim Burrill explained the reason for his request with a review of the voter-approved March town meeting municipal budget. Surplus fund requests were traditionally used to reduce the tax commitment, and Treasurer Sandra Mitchell reported $721,000 in surplus funds at the start of the fiscal year in January. The proposed 2019 budget recommended $250,000 to reduce taxes, $40,000 for loan payments for paving Pond Road, $20,000 for paving mix and $3,500 for the emergency funds account, for a total of $313,000 from the surplus account.

At town meeting, resident Rupert Pratt addressed voters, saying he was concerned about the increasing trend of using surplus money for items that should be funded from designated reserve accounts.

Voters agreed to take $150,000, rather than the requested $250,000, from surplus to reduce the 2019 tax commitment, leaving $507,500 in surplus funds.

Many voters, Burrill said Tuesday night, did not understand that taking $100,000 less from surplus would require them to make up the difference in the approved 2019 budget through their property taxes.

“People voted on things without realizing they were raising their own taxes,” Burrill said.

Voters should have a chance to revisit the town meeting reduction of $100,000 to ease the significant property tax hike anticipated in August. The town is in good financial shape, Burrill said, and people continue to pay excise and property taxes all year long. Many who receive their property bills in August pay within 30 days for their 2% discount.

“If we take $100,000 back, we’re in good shape,” he said.

Selectman Andy Pratt said a special town meeting in mid-July could be interpreted as a way to overturn decisions at the March town meeting.

“Effectively, what the special town meeting will entail is to rescind the vote,” he said. “I understand this will raise taxes, but the public had the opportunity to vote on it.”

Burrill and Selectman Rodney Cook voted to hold the special town meeting; Pratt and Selectman Rob Elliott voted against. Selectman Rod Spiller was absent, so the tie vote means it failed to pass.

Selectmen also serve as property tax assessors, and Bob Worthley is their agent. He adds, subtracts and adjusts the total personal and property valuation and makes his tax rate recommendations to selectmen in July. He considers anticipated changes in revenue sources and reimbursements, along with budgets approved by the town, Franklin County commissioners and School Administrative District 58 voters. He agreed with Burrill’s concerns about the tax rate hike.

“I don’t think (2 mills) is an unrealistic expectation,” he said by phone Wednesday.

Voters in March approved $810,765 in gross municipal appropriations, with $455,746 of that to come from taxes.

In June, voters approved a $9.74 million school district budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which starts July 1. Strong’s $1.05 million share represents a $106,806 increase.

County commissioners will set the county tax rate Tuesday, and Worthley expects a moderate percentage increase.

Since he already has calculated two of the three known budget commitments, he’s estimating a minimum $200,000 increase to taxpayers, which is more than enough to require a minimum $2 increase per $1,000 of property valuation.

The current property tax rate is $15.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, which would mean a property valued at $100,000 would be taxed $1,550.

Raising taxes by 1 mill, or $1, generates $92,000 in additional tax revenue, based on 1/1000 of the town’s total property value of about $92 million.

Selectmen will set the tax rate at their Aug. 13 meeting, and tax bills will be mailed immediately after that. The deadline for paying taxes in full is Nov. 1.

Selectmen also:

  • Approved Pratt’s recommendation for the highway crew to use the backhoe for some road work instead of renting an excavator for $5,000;
  • Approved Hunter York, who bought Pond’s portable toilet business, as the contractor for the seasonal service; and
  • Announced the Town Office will be closed July 4 and 5.

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