Dexter council approves town property ordinance

DEXTER — Before 2023 Dexter and other Maine communities had been able to keep net proceeds from sales of tax-acquired properties that exceeded the amount of taxes owed by the property owner. In order to comply with new regulations, the town worked to revise its corresponding ordinances with the revisions being formally approved by the town council at a March 14 meeting.

In May the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Tyler v. Hennepin County, Minnesota, that municipalities could no longer keep these proceeds. Now municipalities must try to contact the former property owner and then attempt to sell the property through a real estate agent at the highest price, even if it goes to a former owner who did not maintain the property before. 

The Maine Legislature revised the state tax lien foreclosure law to reflect the Supreme Court’s ruling. The law states that municipalities should pay to the former property owner any sale proceeds leftover after deducting total taxes owed, property tax value that would have been assessed after foreclosure, total interest from unpaid taxes, property listing and real estate broker’s fees, unpaid utility bills, and costs that the town accrues from property maintenance or the foreclosure process, like lawyer fees.

At the February council meeting Town Manager Trampas King said Maine and Minnesota were the only states that previously allowed municipalities to keep tax-acquired sales net profits. He gave an example of a property selling for $10,000, with $8,000 covering all the related fees and this leaving $2,000 for town which goes into a specified account. Now this is considered unconstitutional after the U.S. Supreme court ruling and town ordinances need to be revised to reflect this.

King said it can be a challenge to contact property owners at times, as they may live out of state or may have passed away and the heirs cannot be immediately located. He said the council also had some discretion during the bid process, such as accepting an offer from an adjacent property owner if councilors felt this would be in the best interest of the town even if their bid was not the highest. Communities could also have opted to keep the property.

“We are not here to be property owners, we just want the tax money,” King said last month.

For eligible property owners and lien holders needing to pay off their accounts, an extension to pay in full through March 6 was granted by the council. Municipal quit claim deeds will be issued at the April 11 meeting on properties that have satisfied full payment of taxes. 

“We’ve got possession of properties but we’re giving them a chance to get their property back if they pay that three years within the next 30 days,” King said.

In other business, councilors approved acceptance of a pair of grants from the FAA together totaling $143,215 as another piece of funding for a project to replace the terminal building and improve the site at the Dexter Regional Airport including the structure and access road.

“These two grants are the last of the grants that will finish up the terminal building at the airport,” King said.

Last year the council selected DP Porter Contractors of Hermon for the airport project. The business’ low bid was approximately $1.59 million. The terminal building costs would be approximately $1 million and other work includes driveway and parking area paving.

In 2022 the council agreed to a $25,000 purchase and sales agreement with the Dexter Aero Club for its terminal building. The transaction will enable a new 800-square-foot structure to replace the existing 50-year-old, 200-square-foot terminal building. 

The Dexter Aero Club rents space at its hangar, and would continue to do so at a to-be-built structure at the airport. The council has agreed to a 10-year lease at $100 annual rate with the group for an airport site.

Councilor Andrew Bermudez (who is helping organize the event in his position as First Baptist Church of Dexter lead pastor) said more than 80 applications have come in for Group Mission Trips a non-profit, interdenominational Christian volunteer home-repair group — work camp in and around Dexter in late June. He said half of these have been contacted for organizers to learn more and Bermudez said 26 sites could be selected.

For most years in the last half decade-plus dozens of teenagers and adults from around the county have spent close to a week in Dexter working on home projects at no cost for area residents who otherwise could not afford to have the needed repairs made. Participants have stayed at the Ridge View Community School, while Group Mission Trips covered expenses such as food and kitchen and custodial staff.

Bermudez said about $20,000 is needed for building materials. “Any money stays within the town, plus the volunteers coming and spending their money,” he said, with supplies purchased from Dexter businesses.

In the past the town has contributed toward the work camp and Bermudez said he wanted to officially ask for a financial contribution, such as $5,000. The request will likely be on a future council agenda.

“It’s heartbreaking to read those applications,” Bermudez said, knowing that not all seeking help will receive it.

King said he is working with the fire and police departments planning for the total solar eclipse on the afternoon of Monday, April 8. While the path of totality is a bit further north than Dexter, the community should still have a number of visitors traveling through on and around April 8.

“What I feel it’s going to be is a constant run going for Greenville, going for Dover,” he said.

“If it’s a nice day it’s going to be a lot of people, if it’s a bad day who knows,” the town manager added.

At the April meeting the councilors will be discussing a proposed moratorium on solar farms, having looked at a similar measure in nearby Newport.

“This is just the beginning,” Council Chairperson Marcia Delaware said. If a moratorium is in place, the planning board would draft a more permanent ordinance to be voted on at a later time.

Melissa Lizotte of the Aroostook Republican contributed to this story.

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