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Towns pay taxes ahead, easing county budget crunch
PARIS -- The county has enough tax money for now, thanks to several towns paying their county taxes early in the past week.
In early August, county Treasurer Roy Gedat sent letters to towns to see if they could pay before the Sept. 1 due date, to help the county catch up without having to borrow money to pay expenditures. Between Aug. 13 and Aug. 20, eight towns came through.
Gilead, Hartford, Lincoln Plantation, Lovell, Rumford, Sweden and West Paris each paid their full 2012 taxes, and Norway paid half its levy, $167,704, for a total of $1.3 million. On Tuesday, Gedat told selectmen that would be enough to get the county through the lean period before taxes are due.
County Administrator Scott Cole said the shortfall before taxes are due is a yearly challenge, caused by the county's January through December fiscal year.
“Our county begins spending money on our budget on Jan 1,” Cole said. The county's 2012 tax levy is $5.29 million, which covers most of the county's $7 million budget. By the time that money is due, the county has paid 83 percent of its annual budget.
Cole said selectmen are looking into changing the fiscal year to July through June, which is in line with most municipalities. Gedat has also supported the change.
By state law assessments are due Sept. 1, four months before its fiscal year ends. Towns can pay as late as Nov. 1 without being charged interest. That means the county doesn't get all its money until just two months before its fiscal year ends.
“The bulk of the money doesn't come in from the towns until November,” Cole said. Each year, the county takes out short-term financing to cover the gap, a measure commissioners and the treasurer would prefer not to take.
Cole said a change to a fiscal year budget has been discussed since an April meeting on the unorganized territories. He said there would be some difficulties in making the change, including setting either a six-month budget or an 18-month budget to bridge the gap. Either way could be difficult for towns.
Hartford Selectmen Lee Holman said it could be hard for towns, which start their budgets at the same time the county would be doing its own budget work, with a committee of selectmen from Oxford County towns.
"Anyone who's a selectman, that is, anybody on the Budget Committee, would be doing double duty," Holman said. "It's kind of hard to pile up all your meetings at the same time of year."
The County Commission is set to take up the issue at a future meeting.