Searsmont authorizes tax club payment program, addresses ordinance changes

By Ben Holbrook | Apr 10, 2014
Photo by: Ben Holbrook First Selectman Bruce Brierley presents Sandra McLellan with the Spirit of America Award during the annual town meeting Saturday, April 5, for her efforts organizing the annual Memorial Day Parade.

Searsmont — Searsmont voters approved forming a tax club that will allow residents to make monthly payments on their property taxes without accruing interest, and discussed the need to address deteriorating road conditions.

The meeting began at 9 a.m. in the Community Center and was moderated by Lee Woodward.

Article 23 asked residents to authorize the tax collector to enter into agreements with residents to form a “tax club” payment program. Town Clerk Kathy Hoey explained the tax club is beneficial to both the town and taxpayers.

The tax club program allows property taxpayers to make smaller, monthly payments over the course of the year as opposed to one lump sum payment. The monthly payments on taxes can help maintain the town's cash flow, which in turn could prevent Searsmont from needing to borrow money, Hoey said.

Hoey explained that as long as payments are made on time, no interest will be charged. However, participants can be eliminated from the program if two scheduled payments are made late. At that time, the taxpayer would be subject to the same due dates and interest rates as other taxpayers not participating in the program.

Enrollment for the program began April 1 and is open until May 15 with the first tax payment scheduled to be due May 31. Payments will be do at the end of each month.

The monthly payments will be calculated based on the previous year's tax bill, and once the new tax rate has been established — either in late July or early August — the payments will be increased or decreased accordingly so that the tax bill is paid in full by March of the following year.

Hoey said only residents who are current on their taxes are eligible to enroll in the program.

Payments can be made in person or by mail, which prompted a question from a resident about whether town officials had looked into allowing payments to be made electronically. Hoey said she had not looked into electronic payments, but said that was something that could be considered in the future, before voters authorized the program.

Enrollment forms can be found on the town website attached to the spring newsletter.

Prior to opening discussion on Article 19, First Selectman Bruce Brierley explained that the town's budget for this year increased by about $44,700. He said that increase is due primarily to the need for the town to complete significant road work. However, he said the town would use surplus funds to offset that increase to taxpayers.

Brierley continued by noting that while the Waldo County budget decreased, town officials are awaiting word on the Regional School Unit 20 budget.

“It looks like to us that we will have a pretty serious increase in taxes due to the schools,” Brierley said.

Third Selectman Chris Staples then briefed residents on some of the planned work the town will do during the year. He said roads such as Appleton Ridge Road, Ghent Road and Pond Road need attention, and the town will continue clean-up efforts with clearing fallen trees and branches from the December ice storm.

On the subject of roads, resident Jenness Robbins asked why the town budgeted $405,000 in 2013 but only spent $383,579.40. Brierley said inclement weather prevented the town from completing all of the work it planned, which is why not all of the budgeted funds were spent.

Residents approved Article 19 with amendments to include a $400 donation to the library budget, an additional $250 in the social services agencies line and a $100 donation to Waldo County Search and Rescue.

The total town budget for 2014 is $997,050 with $783,200 coming from taxation; $200,100 coming from revenue; and $13,750 being used from the town's reserves.

Voters also tackled a handful of ordinance changes and a request to address the construction of wind turbines of a certain size.

Article 33 asked residents to approve a one year moratorium on the construction of wind turbines that are taller than 75 feet or more than 10 megawatts. Residents approved the request without discussion.

Attention then turned to changes to the town's sign ordinance. The changes, which are printed in the town warrant, primarily address the size of signs and prohibit signs from being placed any closer than eight feet from a property line.

After a question was asked about existing signs that are closer than eight feet from a property line, officials clarified that the changes only apply to new construction and not to existing signage.

Finally, residents approved an amendment to the town's shoreland zoning ordinance to change the setback in certain areas from 100 feet to 75 feet in order to be consistent with state regulations.

The meeting adjourned shortly after 11:30 a.m.

Election results:

Second Selectman — Donald Corcoran

Planning Board — Sarah Crosby and Dave Marceau

Planning Board of Appeals — Melvin Shure, James A. Robbins II and Arthur Richardson

Cemetery Committee — Douglas Calhoun and Jenness Robbins

Library Board of Trustees — Jean Wakem and Sarah Nelson

Emergency Management Director — James Ames

Fire Chief — James Ames

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Ben Holbrook
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Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.

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