APPLETON — After climbing, then plateauing, for a few years, property taxes in Appleton have come down, and not just a little.
Property owners for the 2022-23 tax year will pay a mill rate of $21.50 per $1,000 of assessed assessment, the Select Board decided at its Sept. 20 meeting.
That’s down 5.5%, or $1.30, from the 2021-2022 tax year when it was $22.80.
Board Vice Chairman Peter Beckett called it a “significant” drop.
“I think it’s great,” said colleague Scott Esancy.
The board could have agreed to a higher rate; two more – $21.60 and $21.70 – were offered as options by agent Curt Lebel of Appleton Assessor in his report to the board at the meeting.
Lebel wrote, “This year, despite the increased cost of municipal appropriations, K-8 education and county tax, increased assessment, revenue sharing assistance and the Substantial use by the city of undesignated fund balances, as approved at the city meeting, will result in a significant lower tax rate.
Over the past year, the total taxable property assessment in Appleton has increased 3.43%, from about $120,553,000 to just under $124,691,000, according to Lebel’s report.
And tuition fees over the same period increased slightly, from $2,257,716 to $2,304,104, or about 2%, the report notes.
Lebel informed the council that he could choose one of the three tariffs he offered as an option, “or another tariff of his choice”. The maximum allowed would be $22.20 per $1,000, he reported.
The new rate was approved on a motion from Beckett and a second from Marci Moody Blakely.
Board member Charles Garrigan pondered aloud at the meeting where that leaves Appleton versus surrounding towns.
“Are we still the second highest rate in Knox County?” he wondered.
Noting that the city’s rate has held steady for three straight years and is now declining, Board Chair Lorie Costigan said, “Let’s keep the momentum going.
Asked for further comment on Sept. 25, Costigan called the new rate good news.
“When do you hear a (topical) story about lowering taxes?” she asked.
After the board meeting, Beckett explained that a number of things came together to create positive tax news for Appleton property owners.
Not the least is the change in how Appleton monitors its reserve funds and who looks after the books, according to Beckett.
“What we found was that the city was really good at putting money into reserves,” Beckett said. “Our new accountant was able to make us fully aware of the exact amount of money in the reserves. Previous accountants…” he said, not finishing his sentence.
Then he added: “Additional money has come in over the years and now we think we have a lot of reserves.”
These reservations, he said, occur when the city does not spend all of the money requested in the annual budget.
“That stash is building up and we’ve gotten to the point where we feel we can give back to the residents,” Beckett said.
The budget has remained stable for the past three years, he said.
“The state gave us more money and the state increased the amount it gives to the school,” Beckett explained.
Even internet sales helped because they allowed the state to increase revenue sharing. That, in part, he said, is because Maine over the past few years has increasingly taxed online sales, so there’s more tax revenue to share with municipalities. And it’s not just Maine, “Every state does it,” Beckett said.
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