BUCKFIELD — A $3 drop in the property tax rate was simply too good to be true.

Town officials miscalculated the mill rate, a measurement that determines what residents need to pay in property taxes per $1,000 of assessed value, last month by including exemption values in the taxable valuation line, according to Town Manager Lorna Nichols. Instead of a $3 dip in the mill rate to $18.60 per $1,000 of property value, the rate should have actually risen by $0.60 — a $3.60 error.

The new $22.40 rate will be certified by the Board of Assessors on Tuesday, Nov. 30, at 5:30 p.m., prior to a workshop on a potential marijuana ordinance.

“We are all deeply disappointed to not be able to offer our residents tax relief,” Nichols said in a statement. “We are thankful to be able to correct the error and update the billing for the second payment due in May. Financial danger for the town could have resulted in lost services to residents, which none of us could begin to fathom – let alone any negative result from the state from our reporting.”

Nichols said the error was discovered while reviewing the return that gets sent in to the state with the contract assessor.

“After speaking with Maine Revenue Monday morning, there is nothing in the statutes to address this issue, although there are several towns that experience a tax rate calculation error every year,” Nichols said.

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The town rushed the mill rate calculation in order to get the tax bill ready before the Nov. 15 due date.  The whole process was delayed because the municipal budget was not approved by residents until late September. Normally, that vote is held during the summer.

Since November 2020, town government operations have been hampered for several reasons. Town office staff resigned that month, John Andrews took over as town manager and resigned six months later. Bradley Plante was hired as interim town manager in May and discovered the audit of town finances for fiscal year 2019-20, which ended June 30, 2020, had not been finished and therefore he didn’t know where town finances stood.

Nichols, who started in October, is Buckfield’s fifth town manager since August 2020.

Residents who paid the lower tax amount on Nov. 15 will have the difference added to their May tax bill. It was unclear if residents will have to pay an interest penalty on the unpaid portion of the November tax bill.

To help fix the problem, Nichols said a trained assessor needs to be in the Town Office.

“Our contracted assessor’s recommendation in his October report was in agreement with the town manager that there needs to be a constant assessor presence in the office,” Nichols said. “This is a hard lesson in what is needed moving forward and we are committed to just that.”


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