How does Rockland's new tax rate stack up?City tax rate highest in county, driven by cuts in state aid to schools
Rockland — Acting City Manager Thomas Luttrell said last week the Rockland property tax rate will be $20.16 per $1,000 of assessed property value for 2014-2015, up from $19.52 previously.
The increase has been driven by cuts in state aid to schools, a drop in the city's valuation and decreased revenues from taxes on personal property.
A homeowner assessed at $150,000 in property value will see a property tax bill of $3,024, up $96 from last year.
Of that $20.16, the school district receives $10.32, the city receives $8.95 and the county government receives about 89 cents. The school district receives the largest share at 51 percent of the property taxes collected.
Rockland's rate is higher than that in surrounding communities.
The most recently available property tax rates in Knox County are as follows:
Owls Head, $9.75
St. George, $7.70
South Thomaston, $12.46
In Lincoln County, Waldoboro's rate is $13.50, and Belfast in Waldo County has a rate of $21.91. Lincolnville has a rate of $13.60.
City officials say municipal spending is not increasing. The cost to taxpayers is up in part because 59 businesses in the city applied for business equipment taxation exemptions, reducing the amount the city takes in from taxing businesses for personal property.
Another important factor was the loss of Wal-Mart, which moved to Thomaston. "With that move, the city lost over $2 million in personal property," City Assessor Dennis Reed wrote in a June 27 memo to the City Council. "Not just Wal-Mart's, but four or more other business associated with Wal-Mart."
Reed also pointed to the change of The Strand Theatre to non-profit status.
City officials had planned to come in with a $20.02 property tax rate, but the drop in the city's valuation increased it to $20.16. In a June 27 memo, Luttrell said cutting the city budget by $110,000 could keep the rate at $20.02.
Voters in the six towns of Regional School Unit 13 approved a $27.1 million budget in June. Despite cutting several positions and approving a spending package that is approximately $123,000 less than this year, taxpayers will see a 4 percent increase because of less than anticipated revenues in carryover and a decreased amount ($233,000 less) expected in state subsidy.
"Costs are not skyrocketing, the budget this year is less than last year," said Steven Roberts, chairman of the RSU 13 board.
Roberts noted that prior to the merger of School Administrative Districts 5 and 50, the combined budgets were more than $28 million. However, he said, a drop in the amount the district receives from the state has eaten up any savings seen from the merger.
The cost of funding education in Maine is shared between the state and municipalities in each district. State funding to local school districts is based primarily on the Essential Programs and Services or EPS formula and is based on enrollment and property values.
With RSU 13's close proximity to the ocean, property values are higher than inland towns — therefore Midcoast schools receive far less from the state than other schools in the district. In 2013, RSU 13 received 12 percent of its operating costs from the state.
"We are property rich and income poor," Roberts said, noting RSU 13 has the highest poverty rates in the county.
Roberts also noted a shrinking enrollment and the rising costs of healthcare and salaries. There are about 600 fewer students since the two districts merged, which means less revenue, he said.