AUBURN — City officials are rethinking the details of a proposal to send out relief checks to Auburn taxpayers in response to valuation adjustments that resulted in higher tax bills this year.

Last week, the City Council tabled a vote on a proposal to spend $1.5 million from the city’s allocation of the American Rescue Plan Act toward $300 relief checks. According to city staff, the proposal would have sent the checks to all property owners currently enrolled in the state’s Homestead Exemption program.

However, following public feedback and questions from councilors, the proposal will likely be narrowed. During the meeting, many argued that the checks wouldn’t make that much of a difference for homeowners, and that $1.5 million of the federal money could be allocated in more impactful ways. The city has roughly $3 million in ARPA funds that have not yet been allocated.

In response to the concerns, Mayor Jason Levesque floated the idea of limiting the checks to people 65 and older, which was estimated to cost roughly $600,000. On Monday, he said the city is trying to come up with some kind of “balance” that can help soften tax increases on older residents while continuing to use ARPA funding on longer-term projects that can increase Auburn’s tax base.

The original proposal came forward after the city sent out notices regarding valuation adjustments in early July, which garnered plenty of questions at Auburn Hall. City assessing staff said the adjustments, which are based on recent home sales prices, were needed in order to meet state requirements. As a result, some taxpayers saw a huge jump in property taxes, even as the city’s overall valuation increased.

Last week, officials said making the adjustments this year, while still leading to some tax increases, was preferred to waiting even longer, when the impact would have been worse. Because the adjustments typically rely on real estate data that lags behind two years, this year’s changes were largely based on 2019 data. Levesque argued that if done next year, it would’ve been 2020 data, when the pandemic had already caused a spike in real estate prices.


Several members of the public said the city was better off using the ARPA funds for a more impactful program, especially because it would not be a permanent reduction in taxes.

The issue was tabled to the Oct. 3 meeting, but the council could discuss an amended proposal during its Sept. 19 meeting.

“Sure I’d like an extra $300 just like anybody else, but there’s a lot more we could do if we pooled the money,” said Jackie Majerus-Collins.

Auburn resident Dan Herrick said the city should instead use the money to reduce the city budget.

“Residential property owners are paying the burden of a bloated budget,” he said.

This year’s budget was approved prior to the valuation adjustments, and Levesque said this year’s budget is below the rate of inflation. However, some councilors said they should have been more conservative with spending.


Councilor Rick Whiting said he didn’t think the council “did that great of a job this year” on the budget, with “four out of seven rookies on this council.”

Others questioned the tax relief checks because they’re concerned for creating a “cliff” next year.

Councilor Joe Morin said that when residents don’t have the $300 next year, it will “feel like a de facto $300 increase.”

Councilor Leroy Walker was among the only voices strongly supporting the proposal. He said he’d been told from constituents that the $300 would help.

“It will make a difference,” he said, adding that some people saw between $700 and $1,500 tax increases. “That’s a lot for people on a fixed income.”

The narrowed focus on people 65 and older could address the impact on those with fixed incomes, Levesque said.

City Manager Phil Crowell said that with adding more restrictions, city staff would have to seek guidance on whether ARPA funds would be eligible to be spent on the program. He suggested that since tax bills are due in mid-September, any tax relief “should come sooner than later.”

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