APPLETON — After climbing, then plateauing, for a few years, property taxes in Appleton are down, and not just by a little bit.

Property owners for the 2022-2023 tax year will pay a mill rate of $21.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the Select Board decided at its Sept. 20 meeting.

That is down 5.5 percent, or $1.30, from the 2021-2022 tax year when it was $22.80.

Select Board Vice Chair Peter Beckett called it a “significant” drop.

“I think it’s great,” colleague Scott Esancy said.

The board could have settled on a higher rate; two others — $21.60 and $21.70 — were offered as options by Appleton Assessor’s Agent Curt Lebel in his report presented to the board at the meeting.

Lebel wrote, “This year, despite increases in the cost of municipal appropriations, K-8 education and county tax, increases in valuation, revenue sharing aid and the town’s substantial use of undesignated fund balances as approved at town meeting will result in a substantial tax rate decrease.”

Over the last year, the total taxable property valuation in Appleton rose by 3.43 percent, from about $120,553,000, to just under $124,691,000, according to Lebel’s report.

And school costs over the same period rose slightly, from $2,257,716 to $2,304,104, or about two percent, the report notes.

Lebel informed the board that it could pick any of the three rates he offered as options, “or another rate of its choosing.” The maximum allowed would be $22.20 per $1,000, he reported.

The new rate was approved on a motion by Beckett and a second by Marci Moody Blakely.

Board member Charles Garrigan pondered aloud at the meeting where that leaves Appleton in relation to surrounding towns.

“Are we still the second highest mill rate in Knox County?” he wondered.

Noting the town’s rate has been flat for three straight years and now is down, Board Chair Lorie Costigan said, “Let’s keep a good thing going.”

Asked on Sept. 25 to comment further, Costigan called the new rate good news.

“When do you hear a (news) story about taxes going down?” she asked.

After the board meeting, Beckett explained that a number of things came together to create the positive tax news for Appleton property owners.

Not the least among those was a change in how Appleton monitors its reserve funds and just who is looking after the books, according to Beckett.

“What we found is the town has been very good at putting money away into reserves,” Beckett said. “Our new accountant has been able to make us fully aware of exactly how much money is in reserves. Previous accountants…” he said, without completing the sentence.

Then he added, “Additional money has come in over the years and we now feel we have plenty in reserves.”

Those reserves, he said, happen when the town does not spend all the money called for in the annual budget.

“That reserve builds up and up and we’ve gotten to the point where we feel we can give some back to the residents,” said Beckett.

The budget has been kept flat for the past three years, he said.

“The state has given us more money and the state 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, in part, he said, is because for the past few years Maine has been taxing online sales more and more, so there is more tax revenue to share with municipalities. And it is not just Maine, “Every state is doing it,” Beckett said.