oxford, Maine

2018 county tax committment up nearly 20%

by Matthew Daigle, Staff Writer Sun Journal Feb. 8, 2018

PARIS — Oxford County commissioners voted Monday afternoon to set the 2018 county tax commitment at $6.98 million, an increase of 19.5 percent over the previous year.

That represents a 1.6 percent increase in an individual property owner’s tax bill, County Administrator Scott Cole said.

In a letter to town officials, Cole wrote that “about half of the $1.1 million tax increase is attributable to new expenditures.”

Those expenditures include:

• $159,102 increase in wages, including two new dispatch positions.

• $145,534 increase related to the courthouse expansion.

• $100,000 increase in building rehabilitation for the Oxford County Regional Airport. 

• $77,430 increase in employee benefits.

• $67,000 increase in the law enforcement vehicles.

The other half of the tax increase came from “ongoing challenges with the Oxford County Jail operations,” Cole said.

He said that since 2015, the county has been paying between $600,000 and $800,000 per year to board long-term inmates at other county jails.

“Until 2018, these fees were paid primarily through draw down of undesignated fund balance,” he said. “However, fund balance can only last so long.

“In 2018, the county is now forced to redirect (Oxford) casino funds previously used for tax relief in order to pay other counties for inmate boarding costs,” Cole said. “Returning the South Paris jail to full-service status would actually be more expensive than boarding out long-term inmates.”

Commissioner David Duguay of Byron pointed out that the county’s tax rate of 98 cents per $1,000 of assessed value is the fourth lowest of the state’s 16 counties.

“The average of the state is $1.23 per $1,000 of value, so even with an increase we’re still well below the state average,” Duguay said.

Commissioner Steve Merrill of Norway agreed, adding, “Looking at where we stand compared to other counties, over the years, I think we’ve provided good services for reasonable prices for our taxpayers.”

Cole also said that “as cold comfort, it must be noted that the county tax represents, on average, only about 8 percent of the total property tax burden, with municipal and school costs consuming the other 92 percent.”

“Therefore, the county’s 20 percent increase represents a 1.6 percent increase in overall property taxation when the increase is ultimately applied to the individual property owner’s tax bill,” Cole said.