Back to Fort Fairfield Journal      WFFJ-TV      Contact Us






Taxes and Reval Still the Hot Topic at

Fort Fairfield Town Council Meeting


By:  David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, March 24, 2021

   The property valuation and mil rate/budget saga continues in Fort Fairfield as some taxpayers left the March town council meeting hanging their heads, saying they felt like they were coming out of the principal's office after a scolding.

   The following comments were transcribed as best as this writer could make out from the town's highly digitally compressed video/audio file which they capture for the public record.  Portions of the audio that could not be understood are annotated within as “[inaudible]”.  While this writer is quite healthy and capable of attending and capturing high quality video and audio of the event, I simply refuse to participate in the face mask hysteria/religion being promulgated in public by an increasingly out of touch governor and insanely risk-averse Maine CDC director, who is bordering on obsessive-compulsive disorder, so the following text is what you're going to get.

The town council meeting video picks up in the middle of town councilman, Mitch Butler's opening address.  He noted that less than one third of taxes raised in town actually go to the town for town expenses.  He provided the following example; “My tax bill for 2020 was $1,380.47.  Of that amount, $94.15 went to the County; $857.15 went to the school and $429.19 went to the town,” said Butler.  “I'm 65 and need services more than I do the school.  If I had an emergency and had to call an ambulance...[inaudible]...have a bus take me to the hospital...[inaudible] council cut 25% from our tax collection  I would guess we control less than one third of that tax distribution.  Our mil rate is not set until we receive a bill from the school.  And understand...[inaudible]... that we cannot reject any amount...[inaudible].”

   There appear to be two issues that have local taxpayers concerned.  The first, as with most towns, is the town budget, which did have the requisite public hearings last Spring which virtually nobody showed up for and were ultimately voted on and approved by the council.  The second, is the recent town wide revaluation which according to some was based on fairy tales and pixie dust as there is little rhyme or reason to how some of the final valuations got fixed in stone by the private contractor who the town hired to provide those figures.

   Jeff Armstrong, a Fort Fairfield inhabitant and businessman spoke during the public comment period and reiterated some of the discrepancies he found with regard to the revaluation.  “During the January town council meeting, I spoke regarding fairness specifically on my evaluation, my property in Fort Fairfield,” said Armstrong to the council. “I wanted to review that with you because the valuation to me, for properties that are a stone's throw from my property at 94 Presque Isle Street, there's no consistency on the evaluation - none.  Let me give you an example...I have 0.6 acres that have a valuation at $15,000 for the last 19 years.  After revaluation, that same 0.6 acres was revaluated at $47,400.  From $15,000 to $47,400, that's a 216% increase on my land for less than an acre.  My neighbor, Greg Murchison at 95 Presque Isle Street, he owns half an acre.  His valuation before this revaluation was valued at $12,800.  After the revaluation his property, land value, was $12,400.  It went down $400, approximately a 3% decrease.  My neighbor at 102 Presque Isle Street owns 0.34 acres.  His valuation before the revaluation was $12,000.  After the revaluation it went from $12,000 to $24,000.  That's a 100% increase.  The other building, that used to be the [Family Dollar] building, which is now empty, before the revaluation - this is 1.84 acres - the valuation for that property was $34,500.  After the revaluation it is now valuated at $49,500 - a 43% increase.  I see no consistency at all in how this revaluation was done...I do not see the fairness in this, there's no consistency.  Those four properties are in my neighborhood and I can just imagine, throughout the rest of Fort Fairfield I'm sure there are many, many more inconsistencies.  During the January town council meeting I brought this up and I wish I had gotten a response to this.  I have not received a response yet.  Hopefully after this meeting I will...I'm wondering right now what is a fair valuation cost for an acre of property.  At the January meeting I mentioned I don't think due diligence was taken into consideration.

   John Griffeth Jr. is a member of a farm family in Fort Fairfield who had their Fort Fairfield land taxes increased by 25%.  While the plots in Fort Fairfield only represent about a third of their acreage, they're still expecting the exact same gross this year over last year's very slim margins.  “That means we have to make tough decisions and work harder than we did when we were kids just to keep your head above water and I think these department heads, they need to figure out that the world is real sometimes,” said Griffeth during the public comment period.  “If you have a little kid that keeps wanting something, and you keep giving it to him every time, guess what happens; they're never going to stop asking for it.”

   Jennifer Gaenzle, a Fort Fairfield inhabitant and current librarian at Fort Fairfield Public Library was the next to speak during the public comment period. She said, “I've heard people complaining their taxes are increasing and at the same time saying there are no services here.  You do have services.  You have two fully staffed and trained ambulance units, a well-trained fire department, you have a police department with exceptional officers.  You have a community pool, a fantastic recreation department, a lovely library, you have a great public works department to name just a few.  We need businesses to come here.  But what new business is going to want to come here if we do not have an ambulance service for their employees or a fire department and police force in town to protect their business?  None. 

   She then elucidated the differences between a town government and a for-profit business and how the two can't be adequately or fairly reconciled with each other.  The late John Herold, a former Fort Fairfield town council member, had made similar points to this writer in a conversation several years ago.      “I've heard people saying the town should be run like a business,” said Gaenzle.  “That is not what a town does.  A business runs to make money for their owners.  That is not...[inaudible]...Towns provide services to their community to enhance their way of life and safety to increase business and resident opportunity.  Upset some expenses, yes, but it's not meant to be --- [town video and audio feed  goes blank for the rest of her speech] ---

   Gary Sirois spoke up, offering some sage advice and suggestions to the town council.  “We commend Mr. Smith for providing us citizens with information about the impact of our taxes.  Second, let me recommend that the town invest in a public address system.  Thirdly, hopefully the council members recognize that there's some interest in this town with what's going on with the assessments, with the taxes and the spending...Hopefully, you people who...make decisions for the rest of us are listening to the comments and taking them to heart.” 

   Kevin Pelletier, a Fort Fairfield inhabitant and business owner rose and spoke during the public comment period, saying to the council; “You guys got to understand something, we voted you guys in.  She [the town manager] works for you, you don't work for her.  You need to understand that.  This isn't going to go away, you need to do something about it.” 

   Town council member, Mark Babin then issued a statement to the public; “We understand that we are involved in a transition.  Right now, what's happening with our community and with the reval is something that's been shared and done already.  It's necessary.  Some information that you guys are hearing is not quite accurate.  What we read in the papers is not quite accurate.  I want to make sure we do not draw conclusions that are based on assumptions or comments that are made that were inaccurate.  We do understand our position on the town council.  We know that you guys elected us and we're trying the best we can to make things right for everybody.  At the same time, we understand that our town manager is doing the best that she can to do the job that she does.  It's not an easy job.  She has to be in charge of all departments making sure everything goes the way it's supposed to so I would encourage you to be cheerful and let's bring healing to our community at the same time give us the ability to work on what needs work instead of pointing fingers and accusations at us, the town manager and others.  This will never fly right if we do that.  We've lived in a world in the last year or so, or maybe four or five years where pointing fingers is just...[inaudible]...So, I just want to challenge you with that.  So give us the ability and opportunity to work together and not listen to what other people assume what we're doing or not.”

   More of this town council meeting will be transcribed in the next edition of Fort Fairfield Journal as space and time permits [editor note: it is now nearly midnight on Friday night, March 19 as I do this transcription for you to have it ready for printing this weekend...You're welcome.]