New Gloucester’s proposed property tax assistance and public safety ordinances: Background and context

Diane Salisbury, NGX Editorial Team

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At the special town meeting in June, voters narrowly defeated two proposed ordinances: one aimed at property tax assistance for elderly townspeople, and the other directed at changes in the current town ordinance regarding public safety.  Many of the public comments before the ordinance votes were impassioned or highly personal.   

In response to these failed proposals, NGX has received opinions from a few townspeople indicating either their displeasure or support for these ordinances. In order to present a balanced view of the issues, it seemed appropriate to revisit the actual ordinances for information as a background to publishing the opinion pieces.

To that end, I interviewed Town Manager Carrie Castonguay and reviewed the two ordinances, as well as the existing town ordinance regarding fire and rescue operations.  Both proposed ordinances seem relatively straightforward in their origin and intent at the onset.

PROPERTY TAX ASSISTANCE ORDINANCE

The actual ordinance proposed to establish a program to provide property tax assistance to person 70 years or older whose annual income is $40,000 or less and who have resided in the town of New Gloucester for at least ten years, and have applied for and received the homestead exemption and state Property Tax Fairness credit.  The definitions are where the differences in interpretation begin, particularly the term “homestead.”

Castonguay indicated that the origin of the ordinance was that the Board of Selectmen were anticipating tax changes in light of the upcoming property revaluation.  Preliminary research included looking at similar tax relief programs in the neighboring towns of Cumberland, North Yarmouth and Poland, as well as the various procedural models in use. It is in these details that some of the issues take root.  Castonguay also indicated that there have been no property tax foreclosures of senior citizens in recent years.

PUBLIC SAFETY ORDINANCE

The proposed ordinance stems from the necessity of providing 24-hour coverage for fire and emergency services for New Gloucester townspeople.  It would have aligned the purposes, definitions and organizational details in accordance with a municipal public safety ordinance, rather than the existing fire and rescue ordinance.  The differences, which were some of the issues raised and debated at the town meeting, had to do with streamlining the wording of the ordinance.  The existing fire and rescue ordinance gives the authority to the town manager to hire the fire chief with the approval of the board of selectmen.  There was no change in the authority to appoint the fire chief in the proposed ordinance.

The new public safety policies, according to Castonguay, have actually been in place for over a year and the compensation piece has likewise been in place. The job descriptions were rewritten to bring the language into compliance with a “municipal” public safety department within a town manager form of government.  These new job descriptions were reviewed and tabled at the Board’s most recent meeting.

For the time being, the old ordinance remains in effect.  Castonguay explained that the Board of Selectmen had looked at contracting with a private company for the town’s public safety function, but that had proved to be too expensive.

For further information, the video of the June 19 town meeting is available here.  The full text of the proposed property tax assistance ordinance is here, and the proposed public safety ordinance is here.

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