Searsport set to change fiscal year in 2019

June town meetings start 2020
By Fran Gonzalez | Feb 10, 2018
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez

Searsport selectmen have decided to change the town's fiscal year to match that of Regional School Unit 20 and the state, starting in 2019.

An 18-month transitional budget will be presented at the March 2019 annual town meeting to support town operations from that meeting until June 30, 2020. Twelve-month budgeting will resume with the next annual town meeting, to be held in June 2020, and town meetings and budgets will be set in June yearly thereafter.

At present, Searsport starts its budget year Jan. 1, paying bills on estimates until the annual March town meeting when the budget is approved by voters. The budget is partly based on estimates of state revenue and school district costs, both of which are finalized on a fiscal year schedule that starts July 1.

"Maintaining that (the current) fiscal year and the March town meeting with it, while it's part of tradition, has cost the town money," Selectman Aaron Fethke said. "It has to be subsidized by taxpayers."

Taxpayers are asked to pay interest on the tax anticipation note the town takes out, he said. Also, because officials don't know what the entire school budget will look like, the town taxes more aggressively to make sure all bills are covered.

"Since the school is currently on a different fiscal year than the town, we hope we put forward the right numbers," Fethke said.

Fethke added that with only two towns in RSU 20 now, Searsport would face paying the principal part of any major increase in the school budget.

The timeline for when taxes will be due and how they are to be paid is a decision to be made at town meeting, Town Manager James Gillway said in a previous public hearing.

At present, Searsport sends property tax bills once a year. Under the new system, that would probably change to twice a year, with three bills going out during the 18-month transition.

Complicating matters, Searsport is in the midst of a revaluation. Gillway said previously that this could make for some confusing tax bills: If a property's assessment went up at that same time that the town entered a six-month billing cycle, the resulting bill would appear to go down, despite the actual tax increase.

The selectmen have held three public hearings in an attempt to make this fiscal budget change transparent to townspeople. There were three people in attendance at the Feb. 6 meeting. In the past, residents have turned down the idea in straw polls and selectmen have been reticent to push ahead without widespread support.

"To the best of my knowledge I can't find another municipality that has gone back, once they have changed," Selectman Jack Merrithew said.

Selectman Doug Norman said, "I'm very traditional and I think this is the right thing to do. Everybody will be happier in the end."

Selectmen Richard Desmarais added, "We're on the right track here."

The board approved the change unanimously.

 

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