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Fort Fairfield Property Owners Voice Concerns Over Town’s Increased Property Taxes


By:  David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, February 10, 2021


   The property tax valuation issue in Fort Fairfield is not going away any time soon.  One Fort Fairfield inhabitant, who has asked to remain anonymous, took it upon themselves to pay $150.00 out of their own pocket to the town office to get the tax valuations for every piece of property in town for 2019 and 2020 for further research and evaluation.   “I obtained the tax bill records for all taxpayers for 2019 and 2020 from the town office.  They could only give me the PDF version so I had to get help to convert to Excel so that I could study the numbers.  Of course, the columns did not line up, so it required several weeks of work to finally be able to do calculations,” the anonymous person told the Fort Fairfield Journal.   “The average increase for all taxpayers is 28%.  If you include only those whose bills that went up, then the increase is 46%.  I am obviously not an accountant, but it seems pretty clear now that this involves more than just a few people and that the increase is outrageous.”

   Anonymous also stated, “We have lived and paid taxes this community for 47 years and not once have ever complained about anything.  In this almost 50 year period, our property tax bills have gradually increased each year at a normal, reasonable rate. We have felt that the administration and board were taking care of the business of representing us fairly.  This is different.  This will eventually force us out of our home.  This does not make sense to us.  How could anyone think that increasing tax bills 20%-100% in one year is OK, or that we believe the excuse of trying to pass the blame onto routine property reevaluations?”

   The Fort Fairfield TownCouncil meeting of January 20, 2021 was very well attended.  Citizens filled the meeting room and spilled over into hallways.  All were there to protest the tax increase. Four people spoke out at the podium during the public comment period at the start of the meeting; they were Kevin Pelletier, Jim Ouellette, Jeff Armstrong and Chuck Ainsworth.

   Kevin Pelletier, a native of Fort Fairfield and businessman who has done business in Fort Fairfield for 25 years, was the first to address the town council during their public comment period.  He stated; “Since our town has been assessed, we assessed taxes, I've had more people come to me to complain about the taxes wondering how they're going to make ends meet.  They assessed my taxes, I don't know how they done it, I was told professionals came in and assessed the taxes.  I said, you know, if I was a professional like that, I'd have been out of business a long time ago.  We've been unfairly assessed here in Fort Fairfield.  I don't just speak for myself, I speak for everybody else - all the people that have come to talk to me about it.  I feel like if people are made to pay the taxes here, what's going on here right now to pay these taxes like this, if I was a young family and I had the money to relocate and come to a town like Fort Fairfield, I wouldn't do it.  There's not that much here, not to pay these kind of taxes that we're expected to pay.  It's not right.  I'm a business owner and if I was a business and wanted to locate to a town, I wouldn't look at Fort Fairfield - not with the tax base we're looking at.  I wouldn't do it.  It wouldn't be a smart move.  I think that we're hurting ourselves by imposing taxes as high as we are.  You [the town council] need to take a look at this and do something different.  I think the sooner, the better.” 

   Jim Ouellette, a taxpayer in town for 50 years, was the second to speak.  He stated;  “I'm here on behalf of the taxpayers here in town.  As you all know, this year COVID-19 pandemic is causing extreme financial hardship on many families and communities, as it is throughout the whole country.  Our property tax bills are off by a huge increase over last year.  We are requesting that the late penalty fee for paying property taxes after the due date be extended for the remainder of 2021.  This will give families who have lost employment, lost business income, or have less work hours, more time to accumulate the funds to pay their taxes.”

   Jeff Armstrong was the third to speak.  He has lived in Fort Fairfield for last 32 years and is the owner of Armstrong Engineering in Fort Fairfield.  He told the council;  “Over the past 32 years I've done a lot of volunteer work and so forth, being with the school board, volunteering for coaching and certain committees, activities, Friends Helping Friends, I supported them and other activities.  I've always been a proponent for fairness.  What I saw so far in this past tax assessment is nothing but unfair.  I can bring up several examples, but from my own experience [where] my tax base on my home property increased 50 percent and over 74 percent on my business property.  My business property, land alone went up over 300 percent.  The property across from me went down by 3 percent; same acreage, same commercial use and I question why did that happen.  So, the only thing I can come to conclude is someone didn't do their due diligence.  I don't know where they got their numbers but it's totally unfair.  Some people's taxes went down, other people's went up and I'd like to have an answer why that happened.  I have talked to Tony, he couldn't give me an answer.  But, something's afoot.  Something's not right.  I don't know about the other property owners in Fort Fairfield, but I believe land owners, property owners, they've got the same concerns, the same arguments and so forth.  So, as Mr. Pelletier has stated, why would I want to stay here if this is going to continue.  And that's a question you all [the council] have to answer yourselves.  I love the town of Fort Fairfield.  I moved back here from the Portland area back in 1988.  It's a great place to raise my children, a great place to have a family and start a business.  I have never had a town manager walk into my business other than one we asked to come in.  This town wants to support business, wants to see town growth, but it's not going to happen the way the tax agenda is going and it's not being run like a business.  As Mr. Pelletier said, the town will be out of business the way this has happened.  So, I strongly suggest you all [the council] all do your due diligence and don't cut your nose off to spite your face and that's what I see here.  

   Chuck Ainsworth was the forth to speak.  He's been a Fort Fairfield inhabitant since 2016.  He stated;   “I was so excited to move to this town, it's been my life's dream to move to this town.  I've gotten a chance to meet a lot of great people in this town from a lot of different walks of life.  I know one thing is everyone here works hard.  They work hard for their money, they work hard for their jobs and they take a lot of pride in this town.  I think we can take pride in the fact that [the council] is serving in the capacity in this town and you've given your all.  I know that and I know that everybody's hearts are in the right place. I guess I can consider myself an outsider in that I haven't lived here my whole life.  I didn't grow up here, I do have family ties to the area but I didn't grow up here.  But this refrain that we keep hearing of that it's not being run like a business is a concern of the taxpayer that as they see their taxes go up and I myself have seen mine go up significantly this year and then I look around and see some of the expenditures and it doesn't jive well with me.   Maybe they're necessary, maybe they aren't.  I think some transparency from the town council how money is being spent is critical.  I'm all about our EMS service, I'm all about our fire department, I'm all about our police department.  But, at the same time if the expenses are going up and we've seen big, big, big expenditures from those departments and we don't see where the extra money's coming from, we lose big tax bases like ReEnergy plant and we replace them with things we can't even get tax revenue from what is the point of bringing those businesses to town if we can't get a tangible benefit.  Are we getting pennies on the dollar or are we getting a dollar on the dollar for the kinds of expenses we put into that.  I guess what I'm looking for is a little return on our investment.  Look at the money that you're spending.  Look at the money in each of the departments and what are you getting out of them.  Is it worth the town's hard-earned money?  Because truly we entrust each and every one of you [councilors] to make that very difficult decision where every penny goes.  Ask yourselves, are we getting the money back from that investment.  The answer might be yes.   But, be prepared that if the answer's no, what you are prepared to do, what are your next steps.  Because it's a great idea to take an initiative, but you have to be brave enough to evaluate that decision and make that brave and difficult decision that it's not working and what you're prepared to do to fix it.  We're going to see a massive, massive shortfall in cash revenues coming in from the State.  They're already anticipating huge budget shortfalls.   How are we going to pay for our schools coming up?  What about the funding formulas that come from the State based on median household [value].  What about these things?  Are we looking into the future of what the cost of these increased services that were committed; the cost of new equipment; new purchases.  Are these worth it?  Are there other avenues where we can save money.  That refrain that we've got to run like a business is true.  Because if we can't run it like a business then we can't remain solvent as a town and what we're doing here today is futile.  I think you guys [the council] are the right people to do the job but you've got to own it and take pride in those decisions that you've made so that we can take pride in what you guys do.  I know you're capable.  I've talked to most of you guys here and I truly believe that you're the right people for the job but you've got to like 'own it'.  Grab it and go.  You guys are the ones in power.  You were put here, you were elected to be here to do the job and I know you can do it.  But there are a lot of concerned people and you should listen to their concerns.”