BIDDEFORD — The property tax, or mil rate in Biddeford will decrease this year to $18.23 per $1,000 of property value, down from $20.05 the previous year.

The reduction means if the tax bill property owners receive later  this month is more than it was last year, it will be because the value of their property has increased, councilors said at their Aug 3 meeting.

A citywide market value update was conducted this year to assure that assessed values for property in the city are equitable and reflective of recent real estate market trends, Assessor Nick Desjardins said in a news release.

“It’s a common misconception that a market update means that the city is collecting more property tax revenue as a whole, but that isn’t the case,” Desjardins said. “The city is actually collecting slightly less property tax revenue in total compared to last year.”

The council had discussed the mil rate over the last few weeks — in a July 20 newsletter, Casavant said a rate of $18.40 was under consideration. At the Aug. 3 meeting he said he had reached out to see if the budgets could be reduced further, and Biddeford School Superintendent Jeremy Ray came back with $182,854 in reductions.

A total  reduction of $527,357 was needed to achieve the point where there would be no increase to taxpayers due to the mil rate. Councilor Stephen St. Cyr moved that the city reduce its contingency fund by $344,994, and that, combined with the school reduction, resulted in the amount needed. St. Cyr noted with the reduction, the contingency account balance will be $455,508.

“I think we’ve been extremely responsible managing the budget this year and I will support this,” said Councilor Amy Clearwater.

Councilor Marc Lessard said he had recommended no increase in the mil rate. But he also said with supply chain issues driving up costs, “inflation is here to stay, and it’s only going to get worse if you don’t set aside additional funds.” Still, he said “it is more important to have a levelling off of taxes.”

“I will support this only because the numbers here are recommended to us by the superintendent,” said Councilor Michael Ready, pointing to education portion of the reductions, “but it’s a feel-good thing and someone will have to deal with it in the future.”

Councilor Wiliam Emhiser, who had advocated increasing the contingency, said a zero increase this year could mean a significant increase next year.

Councilor Norman Belanger said he would not support the measure, “for all the reasons people said.”

Casavant said residents will see substantial increases in water bills and in electric bills. He also noted the city is in line for new revenues and noted an increase in state revenue sharing is slated for next year.

“Yes, there will be more costs, but there will be more revenue,” he said. Casavant said he is comfortable with the proposal, and pointed out the city had received federal funds, and valuations had gone up, “We’ve never been so flush with cash, so we’re in pretty good shape,” he said.

City Manager James Bennett said the city experienced $15 to $20 million worth of new growth over the past year.

“If your tax bill changes, it is directly related to how much your property value changed,” said Bennett.

The motion was approved, with Belanger casting a dissenting vote.

In a July 20 newsletter, Casavant wrote that property values in Biddeford are soaring.

“Multi-family buildings have seen the greatest increase in value, at 20 percent,” he wrote.

Casavant noted there were large spikes in other communities like Portland, where there had not been a revaluation in 15 years.

“We are very, very different,” he said. “First, we have been constantly adjusting values over the years, in reaction to changes in the housing market.”

He also pointed to the new growth. “There are new collectable taxes that offset the need to raise taxes on existing properties,” Casavant said. “New development in the mills and downtown has increased our revenues, and, because of desirability, the value of the downtown has soared. This too helps to offset property taxes throughout the city.”

Desjardins said if a home’s value increases by less than 10 percent, the homeowner would see a decrease in their tax bill; if the value increases more than 10 percent, a tax increase is likely, and if the value increases by 10 percent, the tax should stay the same.

Property owners may contact the Assessing Department at 284-9003 to confirm their new property values beginning in mid-August, or will see the values on their next tax bill. Tax bills are set to be sent out by the end of the month.

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