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No tax increase for Camden's small businesses, town council passes budget

Expect 'some sort of tax increase' next year, town manager says

Emily Lytle
Dover Post
Camden Mayor Tracy Torres was sworn into office Monday, March 2. She said one thing she plans to do as mayor is rework the town's budget "from top to bottom."
  • The Town of Camden budget passed unanimously July 6.
  • A proposed commercial tax increase of about 31% was not included in the budget.
  • The police budget only included funds for hiring one new officer, not two as planned.

Camden Town Council nixed a proposed increase to commercial property taxes when approving the town’s $2.2 million budget in a virtual meeting July 6.

This comes after business owners spoke against the tax hike in the June 1 meeting, which ended in a unanimous vote to table the budget. The town had planned to raise the commercial rate from $1.59 per $100 of assessed property value to $2.08, an almost 31% increase. 

Lisa Dawson of Dawson Bus Service, a 91-year-old Camden company, said the timing of the increase was “a slap in the face” as her business had been closed since March. 

She joined other owners in asking the council to include them in future conversations. Camden hosted a public workshop May 26, advertising it on its website, electric sign and the mayor’s Facebook page. Dawson said that wasn’t enough. “My concern on the day after [Memorial Day] was not to check their website. It was to make sure that my doors stayed open and my employees got paid,” she said. 

Brian Lessard of Lessard Builders agreed, saying that the increase may cause some businesses to shut down. Others like Walt Simpson of Walt Simpson Realty said he felt the discussion was hasty. 

Ultimately, the council agreed and left the tax increase out. Town Manager Jason Stewart, who started his position in June, said the staff will take the next year to find a “fair and equitable” way to increase taxes.

“We’re letting people know, [and] we’re not shy to say it, there will be some sort of tax increase next year,” Stewart said. “It’ll be just probably better for everyone now that we have time to dive into it and look closely at it, and we’re not rushed by the pandemic.”

Mayor Tracy Torres said the council initially supported the commercial tax increase, thinking it would affect the big businesses like Walmart, Lowe’s or Redner’s. 

“They’re the biggest use of our infrastructure,” Torres said, pointing to multiple cases of shoplifting that draw on police resources. 

When she heard from Lessard and other business owners, the conversation shifted. 

“The Camden council has repeatedly not included business owners in any discussion,” Torres recalled the owners telling her. That’s something she plans to change as the town reviews next year’s budget.

“We will be remeeting with the business owners,” she said. “They will be kept in the loop the whole time, and we will be working with the residents.” She plans to research other municipalities and cut back spending wherever possible. “We’re first going to see what fat we can trim off,” she said. 

In another last-minute change July 6, the council lowered the police budget by removing one of the two requested new officers. 

As plans for new apartment buildings move forward in Camden, Torres said the police force needs to match that growth. “There are a lot of things that need updating to protect the residents and to protect the growth here in the town,” she said. 

To cover the estimated $98,662 deficit, the town will use its savings known as the fund balance. 

“[That’s] not something we want to do every year, [but] we’re happy to do that without rushing into a tax increase,” Stewart said. 

He explained that Camden hasn’t seen a tax increase in about a decade. “As towns and cities grow, so do taxes,” he said. In the meantime, he wants people to know that the town heard the business owners’ concerns and wants to continue to hear from the community. 

“We do care, we do listen and we understand the timing, and we moved forward in the best way,” he said. 

The next town council meeting is Monday, Aug. 3.