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Rockland moves up state property tax rate list

State Legislature holds hearing on Rep. Geiger's bill to revamp state education aid
By Stephen Betts | Apr 29, 2021

Rockland has moved up an unenviable list during the past year, a list of Maine municipalities and their tax rates.

The Maine Bureau of Revenue Services has published its annual full value tax rate estimates for all Maine municipalities. The state computes the most recent rates by using 2021 state valuations and the amount of property taxes that each municipality raised in 2019.

The full value rate is different than the individual tax rates used by towns and cities to tax property owners because the state valuations are based on 100% value while municipalities may not be up to 100% valuations. The full value rates allows a more apples to apples comparison of tax rates.

Rockland's full value tax rate for 2019 — the most recent year available — was $23.79. That is the 15th highest rate in Maine out of about 500 municipalities.

That is a steep climb from 2018 when Rockland had the 29th highest full value tax rate. In 2016, Rockland was 32nd.

The state education funding formula is largely to blame for the city's tax rate. The state funding formula provides less aid to communities with high property values such as coastal communities such as Rockland.

Rockland last year sent out bills totaling $19.1 million. Of this amount, $10.6 million (56%) went to the school district. Another $7.3 million (39%) went for municipal services, and $1.1 (5%) went to Knox County.

RSU 13 officials have repeatedly pointed out that if the state education formula factored in a community's median income, the district would receive millions more in aid, thus reducing the property tax rate in communities including Rockland.

The Maine Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee held a public hearing April 27 on a bill by Rep. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland, which would adjust the funding formula to take into account the median income of communities, which would benefit Rockland.

"The committee was polite, they hear bills like this annually, but also recognize that the formula is less than ideal," Geiger said in a statement issued April 29.

Rep. Geiger, Rockland City Councilors Nate Davis and Sarah Austin, RSU 13 Board member Tom Peaco and Rockland Public Library Director Amy Levine offered testimony to the Committee in support of the legislation.

"I think real change will only happen if we and other school districts discuss taking legal action. Nate in his testimony (also written by Councilor Austin), read out part of the statute requiring equity and noted this formula did not meet this legal statuary requirement," Geiger said.

"I do not expect change this session, but I plan to submit new legislation next session and into any further sessions if I am re-elected. I will get better at it and we must seek allies so that the noise we make becomes too deafening to be ignored. In the meantime, I will continue to push for the extra education funding heading Maine’s way from the Care Act, be apportioned on a per pupil basis," she said.

Peaco urged support for the bill before the Committee.

"For years, we have sought rational explanations for this inequity, and have still not received one. The burden is great on working class communities like Rockland and surrounding towns, and this formula needs to be fixed to provide equitable education funding for all Maine students," Peaco said.

For every $771,000 in additional aid, the property tax rate in Rockland would drop $1 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Full value tax rates for other communities

The highest full value tax rate in Maine is East Millinocket at $38.64.

County seats, such as Rockland, tend to have higher tax rates because they provide more services as a service center. Presque Isle, for example, has a full value tax rate of $24.16; Lewiston at $23.18; Bangor $22.08; Machias $21.65; Belfast $20.17; Bath $19.54; Farmington $19.23; Ellsworth $18.02; Portland $16.68; and Skowhegan $16.97.

The state average of full value tax rates was $14.59.

The full value tax rate of other Midcoast communities are:

Appleton $20.84.

Camden $13.88.

Cushing $13.61.

Friendship $11.26

Hope $15.29.

Isle au Haut $9.48.

Islesboro $15.15.

Lincolnville $12.92.

Matinicus $6.50.

North Haven $12.21.

Owls Head $10.51.

Rockland $23.79.

Rockport $15.99.

St. George $9.82.

South Thomaston $13.38.

Thomaston $21.96.

Union $16.81.

Vinalhaven $12.10.

Waldoboro $17.40.

Warren $17.32.

Washington $15.08.

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