Select Board sets tax rates for fiscal 2018

MANCHESTER — The final tax rates for fiscal 2018 are set, and they are a smidge higher than the anticipated figures approved by town meeting.

The Select Board voted unanimously to accept the rates on Tuesday night after hearing from town finance director Ruth Woodard.

As is the case yearly, the town bases its proposed budget on projections from the state and on the Grand List, then settles the math when those figures become final.

In this case, the municipal tax rate — the portion of revenue collections that funds town operations — will be 24.73 cents per $100 in valuation. The Select Board and town meeting voters both approved a rate of 24.46, minus voter appropriations.

With voter appropriations added to the mix, the total town tax rate will be 27.48 — an increase of 0.93 cents over the 26.55 cents per $100 worth of valuation levied in fiscal 2017.

The rate was set on a Grand List value of $1.17 billion and resulting municipal tax levy of $2.9 million.

Board chairman Ivan C. Beattie said the town had anticipated a larger increase in the Grand List, but that did not happen.

"It's a slightly larger increase than what we anticipated, but certainly within reason," he said.

Added together with the state education property tax rates of $1.5252 for non-residential property and $1.6516 for properties with homestead declarations, the final tax rates for 2018 are $1.800 per $100 in value for non-residential property and $1.9264 per $100 for homestead property.

Last year's total rate was $1.7379 for non-residential and $1.8312 for homestead.

The tax bill due dates of Sept,. 8, 2017 and Feb. 9, 2018, and late fees for failing to pay on time, were previously set by town meeting. But a wrinkle in state law allows for towns to forgive fines assessed for taxpayers who do not make a homestead declaration by the deadline.

In the past the select board has decided not to exempt the fine. Tuesday, it stuck with that policy, voting unanimously to retain the fines and not offer waivers.

Finance director Ruth Woodard, who was sitting in for vacationing town manager John O'Keefe, said every time a late homestead declaration is filed, it results in at least 30 minutes of work to re-do their tax bill.

"We've had individual requests that we waive the fines. We've stayed consistent with this," Beattie said.

A longer debate followed on whether the town should continue to use a postmark as the standard by which remittance of bills is considered to be on time. Woodard said her office has encountered numerous, lengthy delivery delays from the U.S. Postal Service, even on mail sent within town — as much as 20 days — hindering efforts to keep the town books balanced.

"Ruth, have you queried the post office?" vice chair Wayne Bell asked.

"Yes, they say it doesn't happen," she replied.

Woodard suggested that the board consider moving to an "in-hand" standard, meaning that payment must be in the office by the due date to be considered paid on time. Arlington uses that standard, she said.

Board member Greg Cutler said that could create confusion since the federal government still uses the postmark standard. Manchester resident Sylvia Jolivette spoke in favor of keeping the postmark standard as well. And Beattie said he understood both sides -- the town's frustration with slow delivery, and residents' expectations that mail sent across town would arrive in timely fashion.

Bell then proposed a compromise: Allow for the postmark standard for this fiscal year, then revisit the question at town meeting. That would give the town time to see if the mail improves, and time to advise residents of any change in what constitutes on-time payment. The board agreed unanimously.

In other business, the board formally approved and signed a series of documents allowing the town, on behalf of the Board of Water Commissioners, to secure $3 million in bond funding for next year's water main replacement project. Voters approved the funding at town meeting.

The project will replace the cast iron water main on Main Street in Manchester Village.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000.


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