LUCERNE — The 90-year-old Lucerne-in-Maine Village Corp. (LIMVC) might be on its way to dissolving, if it follows the recommendation of a governance committee that was formed last summer.
Randy Albert, an overseer, treasurer and road commissioner for Lucerne, said the committee was formed to review the village’s unique relationship with the town of Dedham.
While Lucerne is part of Dedham and pays taxes for the Dedham School and Fire Department, Lucerne has its own administrators and elected officials and maintains its own roads.
The committee, made up of 11 seasonal and year-round residents and property owners in Lucerne, found that most of the Lucerne residents who responded to a survey last fall had concerns about the village’s relationship with Dedham and the comparatively high taxes Lucerne residents have to pay.
Most of the taxes Lucerne residents pay go toward the Dedham school budget, which in 2016-2017 was $3.1 million. The state of Maine covered some of that budget, while Dedham and Lucerne paid $2.7 million.
School budget payments are in large part determined by property values. According to a report the committee released this summer, Lucerne’s property valuation is 42 percent of the combined Dedham/Lucerne property valuation.
That meant the village had to pay $1.1 million of the school budget, while Dedham paid $1.6 million. However, since Lucerne has a smaller population than Dedham, it had to levy a much higher tax rate to meet that sum and pay $500,000 for its own town government.
“For example, a property valued at $200,000 in LIMVC [Lucerne-in-Maine Village Corp] currently pays $3,230 in taxes,” the report says of the tax rate for fiscal year 2016-17, “while a house of the same value in Dedham’s section of the lake pays only $2,800.”
Many Lucerne residents feel they don’t see any benefits from the higher taxes they pay, Albert said.
“This is an aging retirement community,” the overseer said. “There aren’t many people here who have children in the school system.”
Many of the Lucerne property owners are not full-time residents of Lucerne. When the village was first incorporated in 1927, it was designed to give part-timers a say in how their summer colony was governed.
According to the report, about half of Lucerne residents now live there full time and can therefore vote in both Lucerne and Dedham. Dedham Administrative Assistant Michelle Begin said many of those voters already play an active role in town government as voters and as elected officials.
Of the 1,381 registered voters in Dedham, she said, 501 have addresses within Lucerne’s boundaries.
“Lucerne is certainly represented,” she said. “A lot of times that’s not realized.”
The other half of Lucerne residents, however, live there only part time, so they cannot vote or run for office to try to lower their taxes.
The governance committee reviewed options that the village could take, including becoming its own municipality, renegotiating the agreement with Dedham, and even merging with another municipality such as Ellsworth or Holden.
The committee found that becoming a municipality would incur many more administrative costs, and the state legislature would not likely allow Lucerne to join with another town.
Renegotiating with Dedham to lower the tax rate might be perceived by Dedham as a subsidy for Lucerne’s administrative costs, the report says.
“The only real opportunity to reduce the tax burden of Lucerne residents is to expand the tax base on which their taxes are levied,” the report says. “The only way to accomplish this is with a merger with Dedham.”
Merging with Dedham, however, could be difficult. Albert said part-time Lucerne residents were concerned about handing over control of the village.
“There’s just a lot of anxiety, I think,” he said. “If it were to go to Dedham, essentially our non-year-round residents, the snowbirds, would no longer have a direct say, and that makes up a good size part of our population.”
Albert said Lucerne residents were most concerned that the quality of their roads might suffer as a result of a merger with Dedham.
As reported by The Ellsworth American, several Dedham residents complained about the quality of their roads, particularly Green Lake Road, at the town’s annual meeting this summer.
One man said the cracked, potholed road was damaging his car and could impair emergency vehicle access.
Begin said that most of her town’s roads were comparable to those of other towns, and that selectmen would ask voters to approve a bond to repair Green Lake Road next year.
She pointed out that last year Lucerne had to take out a $789,000 bond to repair its 26 miles of roads.
The investment was so large that it prompted a discussion in Lucerne about village governance, which led to the creation of the governance committee.
If Lucerne were to dissolve, Begin said, it would be a challenge to figure out who would pay for the bond.
“That’s a big financial question,” she said.
Albert said that the way the bond was structured, Lucerne could pay back much of the bond within three years. That way, if the village were to dissolve at that point, the taxpayers of both Dedham and Lucerne would have a significantly smaller debt burden to shoulder.
“In essence, the longer we were to wait, the lesser amount Dedham would have to pay,” he said.
The overseer explained that, for now, the plan is to communicate with Dedham to see what might happen to Lucerne’s roads if the village were to dissolve.
“By next summer I would like to have a vote by the overseers to see whether we want to proceed or not to send the vote to the citizens of Lucerne,” he said.
“It’s been a very challenging issue,” he added. “I think we’re just interested in moving in one direction or another.”