Tax Rate Going Up in Chester, Thanks to Town Meeting Votes

CHESTER – Taxpayers are looking at a relatively large increase in their taxes this year, and though most of what led to that increase is the direct result of voters’ decisions earlier this year, selectmen expressed shock at the numbers.

The board, along with aid from the budget committee’s Rhonda Lamphere and Chris Hadik, reviewed some draft tax rate figures devised by the state Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) at their Nov. 14 meeting. The numbers were sent back to the DRA for final approval.
A double-digit percentage increase in spending on the town side, coupled with reduced revenue on the school side, are the main drivers for the increasing tax rate.
Hadik explained that
the numbers the board was looking at showed an increase of $1.53 to the tax rate or about $535 on a property valued at $350,000.
Lamphere explained that the main reasons for the town increase to the tax rate came through voter-approved highway department spending, namely $200,000 added to an account for future roadwork through the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and $200,000 for asphalt.
While school spending dropped this year, reduced revenue of $469,951 has had an impact on the amount needed to be raised by taxation.
Those in attendance noted some shock at the spending and resulting tax rate, but generally agreed that the money had to be spent, especially in the arena of long delayed roadwork.
“It’s a lot but at some point we have to decide whether we have a legitimate tax rate for what we need or we just look at keeping the tax rate down,” said chair Steph Landau.
While selectman Jack Cannon disagreed with the CIP funding mechanism, pointing to it as a cause of the increased rate, Hadik said it was either through the CIP or through a bond that the money would be raised. He added that either way, few would argue that roadwork wasn’t needed in Chester.
Selectman Joe Hagan spoke about the need to bring down spending.
Though spending at the school is down this year, some selectmen complained about the lack of participation at school district meetings and the overall impact a school budget has on the tax rate.
Some amount of discussion focused on the benefits of pulling money from the unreserved fund balance (the town’s savings account, more or less) to help bring down the rate. Eventually a motion by Hagan secured $100,000 from that fund to offset the tax rate. The vote was unanimous.
That sum would bring the number being worked with down by 22 cents, or $77 on a $350,000 home.
The official tax rate has not yet been released.
As part of the same discussion, the board approved an extension on the due date for residents’ payment of their taxes. Because of a delay by the DRA in setting towns’ rates, Chester’s tax bills are set to go out later than usual, a delay that puts the deadline for payment at right about Christmas. Because the tax collector’s office would be closed at that time, the DRA has approved an extension of up to five extra days.

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