Berlin's tax rate drops

The city's new finance director, Holly Larsen, attended her first city council meeting Monday night. (BARBARA TETREAULT PHOTO)

BERLIN — The city council was quiet Monday night when City Manager James Wheeler put up the proposed 2020 tax rate of $35.93 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation.

“We’re speechless,” one councilor quipped as the rate came in $3.89 lower than the 2019 rate of $39.82.

The rate breaks down: municipal tax, $19.02; county tax, $4.63; school tax (local) $10.36; and school tax (state), $1.92.

Wheeler said the city used $400,000 out of the undesignated fund balance while maintaining a 7.27 percent balance in that fund. The state recommendations municipalities keep a balance in the account of at least 5 percent of the budget for unforeseen emergencies.

Councilor Peter Higbee said he was glad to see the fund up a bit.

Wheeler said the city total valuation increased by $78 million as a result of the revaluation performed this year as required by the state every five years. Whether property owners see a drop in their property tax bill depends on their individual property valuation. With housing values increasing in the city, many residential properties saw their valuations increase.

Councilor Mark Eastman who sits on the board of assessors, said the lower tax rate should help generate more economic activity in the city as businesses will find the rate more attractive.

The council approved the rate and authorized the finance director to send out tax bills.

New finance director

Wheeler took the occasion to introduce the council to the city’s new finance director, Holly Larsen. Wheeler has been overseeing the department since Patty Chase retired in July while the search for a replacement has been underway.

Larsen has served as financial administrator for the town of Errol and as a night auditor for Lafayette Hotels in Jackson.

She has also been a multi-entity field tax auditor for N.H. Department of Revenue Administration. Larsen holds an associate degree in accounting and a bachelor’s degree in business management. She lives in Ossipee.

Wheeler reported the city received four bids for the demolition of the former Princess Theater building, ranging from $110,000 to $272,000. The lower bidder was Cross Excavation in Bethel, Maine.

Wheeler said Cross has done other projects for the city. The bid does not include tipping fees for depositing the debris at the landfill. Wheeler said there is a lot of masonry that will not go to the landfill. He said the city had budgeted $200,000 for the demolition.

Councilor Lucie Remillard asked when the demolition would get underway and the project be completed.

Wheeler said he expected the demolition will get underway before the end of the year and be done in a number of weeks.

Also put out to bid was the demolition of the city-owned building next to the fire station on Main Street.

A large part of the two-story building was previously used as a laundromat and the city wants that section demolished. The fire department uses the rest of that building for storage.

Wheeler said three firms submitted bids and Cross again submitted the low bid of $58,175.

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