School supporters dismayed as Cumberland tax levy is finally set

School supporters dismayed as Cumberland tax levy is finally set

CUMBERLAND – Town Council members reset the town’s tax rate at $15.21 per thousand dollar valuation for residential and commercial properties Wednesday night, an amount that will raise taxes on the town’s more modest houses while providing a tax break to those whose homes are valued highest.

Heftier tax bills, the result of a revaluation process that for some increased assessments by 10 percent and more, will be in mail next week despite a promise last June when the budget was adopted that they would stay flat or fluctuate slightly.

Residents may take their new assessment number, divide by 1,000 then multiply by the $15.21 rate to find their new tax bill amount.

Cumberland’s residential and commercial tax rates are identical and its tangible tax on business assets will stay the same at $29.53 thanks to Councilor Tom Kane's amendment to a town ordinance that had capped the amount at no more than 50 percent above the real estate rate.

The impact on taxpayers was barely mentioned Wednesday after several meetings of testimony by emotionally-charged school advocates – about four dozen over the course of three meetings in McCourt’s giant auditorium setting - who asked to use the tax levy process to build more school funding into the current budget year.

The hope was for a little added support for schools this year using Cumberland’s unsynchronized process that adopts a budget that begins July 1 then nine months later sets the amount, or levy, that taxpayers are billed to support it. By state law, the levy can’t be increased by more than 4 percent without permission for an override.

Right up until this week Town Hall has been saying a 3 percent levy increase was needed, a number that seemed to make an extra 1 percent – about $300,000 - available for schools, if councilors were inclined.

Advocates seized on that possibility, for the first time getting themselves involved in the levy discussion rather than waiting for May budget hearings.

But the town’s Finance Department threw a bucket of cold water on hopeful teachers and parents this week when it announced the municipal side would need a 3.8 percent levy increase rather than the predicted 3 percent.

Councilors were indicating the .2 percent over and above the municipal need will yield about $55,000 for schools although a budget amendment to allow that wasn’t on Wednesday’s council agenda.

The tax levy meetings seemed to drive a wider wedge between Mayor Bill Murray and school supporters – which seems to suddenly include the entire Town Council.

See the April 27 Breeze for complete details on Cumberland's shifting political landscape.