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Town Councilor Speaks Out About Fort Fairfield’s New Property Taxes & Budget


By:  David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, March 10, 2021


   Fort Fairfield Town council member, Scott Smith addressed the concerns about some Fort Fairfield Taxpayers’ excessive property tax increases in a short speech during the council’s February meeting, held at the Community Center gym.

   After the town’s revaluation last Fall, Fort Fairfield taxpayers’ bills increased an average of 28.2%.

   During his speech, Smith noted the breakdown of the increases, “Here in Fort Fairfield, 198 taxpayers had an increase of at least $100.  We had 457 taxpayers that increased $500.  We had 140 taxpayers increase $1,000 and we had 33 with over $2,000 increases.” 

    Smith further broke that down as percentages; “889 taxpayers had an increase of 20 percent.  715 had an increase of 30 percent. 505 had a 40 percent increase.  384 had a 50 percent increase.  132 had a 100 percent increase.”

   Using his own home in Fort Fairfield as a guide, which is valued at $167,000, Smith used the website and found as much as a one third increase in his property’s tax rate over the County-wide average.  “[The] County average showed [my property] taxes should be around $2,000.00.  Fort’s taxes are around $3,000.00,” Smith told the Fort Fairfield Journal.  “That’s more than the county average.  Why?  I asked. What are we doing that brings us up one third more than everyone else?

    During the February town council meeting, town manager, Andrea Powers stated the town had so far received $254,948.60 more in collection of taxes than last year.

   “It only makes sense that we have that large amount collected at this time,” Smith told the Fort Fairfield Journal,  “due to the million dollar increase in taxes which are due on February first.”

   According to Smith, ReEnergy, who no longer has a presence or energy plant in Fort Fairfield, currently owes the town $500,000 in unpaid property taxes and the town lost a significant amount of State revenue over the course of the pandemic last year.  “One of the reasons why our taxes are 1/3 more than other towns in the County is that we lost over $500,000 owed us from Re-Energy taxes.” We lost over $300,000 in excise taxes caused by the Governor’s mandates. We have several other accounts that also have a negative deficit, but overall our 2020 budget showed a slight surplus.”

    Smith also noted the police department budget was around $40,000 over budget. “That was explained by the police officers [who] were working overtime shifts to cover an officer that was out for an expended period of time.”

   During his speech at the February Council meeting, Smith also brought up research on the Potato Blossom Festival.   Citing the town’s audit report of June 30th, 2020 Smith stated that it  “showed the Maine Potato Blossom Festival account was $101,193.00 in the hole.”

  Ms. Powers stated at the meeting that the town was $67,749 under budget, as opposed to the rumored $53,000 over budget circulating around town.  However, Smith gives some clarity to the numbers.  “Last year during the budget process (which can be researched – April, May, or June regular counsel meeting) – the town budget showed under the administrative section a $53,000 shortfall,” Smith told the Fort Fairfield Journal.  “On record, I asked for clarification of that, and I was told it was because of benefit increases dealing with her employees. I asked publicly to see her budget twice and have yet to have a response.”

   In the Fort Fairfield Journal article on the town council meeting of February 24, 2021, this writer noted (from memory) how the town had borrowed $1 million to put together a brand new, state-of-the-art ambulance service.  Smith helped revise that estimate by stating, “The town borrowed 1.3 million dollars which I believe was over a 15 year loan period.” 

   Smith says he does not want to eliminate services the local taxpayers want, like police, fire or ambulance, but remains open to creative ways to bring the costs down to provide those services in a way that taxpayers in Fort Fairfield will be able to fund.

   “I do not want any employee to lose their jobs, or to cut any services.  But, there are some expenditures I have seen lately that might not be quite necessary,” Smith told the Fort Fairfield Journal.  “There are things we can do better.  We need to have discussions and make adjustments, if possible.”

   “Last year, after we lost our ambulance service….talking to all our counselors and management, we found no dissension from any taxpayers about having our own ambulance service.  I had explained to them, that I spent 40 years in the fire service and had worked for a city that started an ambulance service in the late ‘70’s. I was familiar with the cost that it would take to provide this service.”

   “There is no money to be made in emergency services for an ambulance service or 911 calls.  At the time we were investigating starting an ambulance service, there was to be 2 budget presentations…. one for used or demo equipment and one for new. We never received a used or demo estimate.”

   Smith is open to finding alternative options to save money while preserving services that taxpayers want.  “Since that counsel meeting I have talked to several individuals involved with fire/ambulance services and they made recommendations that there are things we can do to lessen the cost of the ambulance service for the taxpayers of Fort Fairfield but we would need to have those discussions. When we were proposing this ambulance service, Limestone and Caswell showed an interest in using our service but we were not ready to have that discussion because since we were paying for this service, we wanted to make sure that the Fort Fairfield residents had priority for the service.  I know that [now] Limestone and Caswell have a current ambulance service. Are they still interested in us providing ambulance service for them? I do not want to give a free service to Limestone and Caswell.”

   Smith said he has asked the town manager and staff to research ways to come up with a 25% reduction in the local tax rate and during his speech, also asked the taxpayers to consider what services they are still willing to pay for.  “I asked the Town Manager and the Town staff to show what a 25% reduction in our town budget would look like. We need to take a look at the numbers.  I asked the tax payers to tell us what they want for services. I asked the citizens, ‘Do you still want an ambulance service?’”