Naples: Tax hike tough to take

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Raising taxes is never easy.

Raising taxes is not a popular move.

That is what local elected officials struggled with as they faced a necessary increase in the mil rate.

After all, despite maintaining a lean municipal budget, the town is still responsible for paying the taxes to the school district and to the county.

Following a lengthy discussion on Monday, the Naples Board of Selectmen voted to raise the property tax rate from $13.20 to $13.35.

“You didn’t get any credit for lowering the rate or keeping it the same last year. But we’ll get flack for raising it,” Chairman Jim Grattelo said.

Even after the motion to set the mil rate at $13.35 per $1,000 of valuation, the discussion continued. At one point, the board considered tabling the motion since two of its members were absent. Selectmen Kevin Rogers and Rich Cebra were not present. Prior to Monday night’s meeting, Cebra had notified board that he needed to attend to a family emergency.

Grattelo said that voting without a full board might be unfair and could allow the two absent members to tell people in the community that they weren’t responsible for the tax rate increase.

When talking about the possibility of tabling the vote, Naples Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak advised against it, saying the town typically makes its tax commitment by late August.

In 2016, the tax rate was set during the first week of September. Last year, the tax rate was lowered by 35 cents, according to a Bridgton News article dated Sept. 8, 2016.

“I would not recommend putting it off more than two weeks,” Paraschak said on Monday.

Later on, he said, “I just want to make sure the board locks in the mil rate.”

Selectman Bob Caron II was not in favor of the item being tabled.

“I don’t see why we cannot make the vote tonight. We’ve had a good discussion,” Caron said.

Going back to the conversation that occurred before the vote, Grattelo repeatedly said it had not been a fiscally wise move to lower taxes one year, only to be in a position the following year to raise them.

“When I was on the budget committee, I was against it. Now that I am the chair, I am against it. If we don’t raise it, we are dipping into our surplus,” he said.

He said that from the viewpoint of the Naples taxpayers, nothing will matter other than the taxes were raised this year.

“Yes, we are raising” the tax rate, Caron said. “But the municipal side didn’t raise it. It was the school and county budgets.”

“Seventy (70) cents of every dollar goes to the school,” he said.

Grattelo responded to the comment.

“That is why I made the argument, keep the overlay and bank the money so if we are socked by the school budget, we have it,” he said.

Jim Turpin asked about projected income for the town.

“Often times, we underestimate the excise tax. How does that look,” Turpin asked.

Paraschak answered that the town’s “incomes are doing well.”

“We made our estimates a little less conservative. We were worried something would happen if people starting buying fewer new vehicles,” he said. “The excise tax goes in town coffers — that is helping with the surplus.”

“Excise tax [income] is on the rise. More boats are being registered and code fees are through the roof,” he said.

The board had been provided with a range of mil rates by the town assessor.

Caron said he favored a lower tax rate if the town could rely on projected income.

“I don’t think we should not be paying a $13.55 mil rate if our income” is good, Caron said.

Grattelo expressed his dismay that the board was in a position in which a tax increase was necessary. He also advocated for a healthy overlay so that the town would not have to rely on surplus funds to make ends meet. One rule of thumb is for the municipality to maintain in its surplus three months operating costs — including the monthly school budget payment.

“In my previous life, I have never voted for a tax increase,” he said. “Having said that, the tax rate should be $13.55 if we want to maintain overlay. We cannot be at $13.20. It is not fiscally prudent.”

“If we had left it there [at $13.55], the citizens would be happy that for four years in a row we never raised it,” he said.

It was pointed out that compared to other towns, Naples’ mil rate is low.

Please follow and like us: