APPLETON — After rising and then leveling off for a few years, property taxes in Appleton have dropped, and not just a little.
Property owners for the 2022-2023 fiscal year will pay a mill fee of $21.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the Select Board decided at its Sept. 20 meeting.
That’s down 5.5 percent, or $1.30, from the 2021-2022 tax year when it was $22.80.
Select board vice president Peter Beckett called it a “significant” drop.
“I think it’s great,” said colleague Scott Esancy.
The board could have decided on a higher rate; two others, $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 increases in the cost of city appropriations, K-8 education, and county taxes, increases in assessment, income-sharing assistance, and the town’s substantial use of Fund balances not designated as approved at the town meeting will result in a substantial increase or decrease in the tax rate.”
Over the past year, Appleton’s total taxable property valuation rose 3.43 percent, from about $120,553,000 to just under $124,691,000, according to Lebel’s report.
And school costs during the same period rose slightly, from $2,257,716 to $2,304,104, or about two percent, the report says.
Lebel informed the board that he could choose any of the three rates he offered as options, “or another rate of his choice.” The maximum allowed would be $22.20 per $1,000, she reported.
The new rate was approved on a motion by Beckett and seconded by Marci Moody Blakely.
Board member Charles Garrigan mused aloud at the meeting about where Appleton is in relation to surrounding cities.
“Are we still the second highest mill rate in Knox County?” He asked himself.
Noting that the city’s rate has been flat for three straight years and is now down, board president Lorie Costigan said, “Let’s keep the good stuff going.”
Asked for further comment on Sept. 25, Costigan said the new rate was good news.
“When do you hear a (news) story about tax cuts?” she asked.
After the board meeting, Beckett explained that several things came together to create positive fiscal news for Appleton owners.
Not least among them was a change in how Appleton monitors its reserve funds and who handles the books, according to Beckett.
“What we found is that the city has been very good at putting money away in reserves,” Beckett said. “Our new accountant has been able to let us know exactly how much money is in the reserves. Previous accountants…” he said, not completing the sentence.
He then added: “Additional money has come in over the years and now we feel we have enough reserves.”
Those reservations, he said, happen when the town does not spend all the money required in the annual budget.
“That stock builds and grows and we’ve gotten to the point where we feel like we can give something back to residents,” Beckett said.
The budget has been stable for the last three years, he said.
“The state has given us more money and the state has increased the amount they give to the school,” Beckett explained.
Even Internet sales have helped, as they have allowed the state to increase revenue sharing. That, she said, is in part because Maine has increasingly taxed online sales in recent years, so there is more tax revenue to share with municipalities. And it’s not just Maine, “Every state is doing it,” Beckett said.
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