Casco seeks leverage to collect personal property taxes

 

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — It can be as taxing to try to collect taxes as it is for debtors to pay them.

A highly-visible local business owes personal property taxes to the Town of Casco.

In an effort to collect any unpaid personal property taxes now and in the future, the Casco Board of Selectmen has been reviewing the protocol presented by the Maine Municipal Association (MMA).

P&K Sand and Gravel Inc. owes back taxes for personal property, and has not made any payment arrangements, according to Casco Town Manager Dave Morton.

The town may have to play hardball — denying the company a contract zone renewal until the back taxes are paid, Morton said.

He declined to say how much was owed or how many years back the tax debt goes.

The town has communicated with P&K via letters and phone calls, but the bill remains unpaid, Morton said.

P&K is headquartered in Naples; and that property is taxed by the Town of Naples.

However, P&K has a quarry in Casco. The Heath Quarry is located in the Webbs Mills area, off Indian Acres Road.

The personal property tax policy allows the town to tax business equipment — in the case of P&K that includes heavy machinery used at the quarry in Casco.

“We have a personal property tax law. Many businesses in Casco do pay attention to that” and pay those taxes, Chairman Holly Hancock said on Monday.

The taxable items include equipment, separate from a company’s real estate property and the buildings, she said.

For example, the Casco Village Church pays a tax on the photocopier, Hancock said.

“The board is working on a policy for collections. There is an applicable law. We are examining that and what our procedure will be,” she said.

During the next board meeting on Dec. 8, selectmen will discuss the adoption of a policy for collecting this type of tax.

If no collection policy is adopted, Casco has another approach to get the unpaid taxes from P&K, Morton has told the selectmen at two different meetings.

“One of our taxpayers with the largest amount of personal property taxes is coming in (to the Casco Planning Board) for a contract zone renewal. We can use that for leverage,” Morton said.

That tactic is within the town’s rights, he said.

The contract zone agreement expires in 2017, and the renewal process usually takes several months of planning board meetings. Therefore, P&K representatives would need to apply for the renewal sometime next year.

Judging by discussions during the Nov. 10 meeting, the board may decide to adopt a tougher personal property tax collection policy, which would allow the town to seize enough personal property and sell it to recoup no more than the amount owed.

One drawback is that equipment seized could be leased instead of owned, Morton said.

“If we include the seizure stuff, it may deter” businesses from not paying personal property taxes, Selectman Thomas Peaslee said.

Selectman Grant Plummer weighed in. “Sadly, we are left holding the bag with this group because it has been delinquent for so long. That is what happened when we were looking at property taxes that were due for so long, we were able to get a procedure in place and collect those,” Plummer said. “This is policy and procedure. We need a backbone here. We either don’t do it or we provide a backbone in the policy,” he said.

Hancock said, “Short of the selectboard putting on dark sunglasses and going door to door to these folks,” the MMA manual provides some legal options.

Selectman Calvin Nutting suggested crafting and sticking with a policy — one that won’t be changed in five to seven years.

Nutting expressed his concern about putting P&K out of business, which would mean a loss of jobs in the area.

No one else voiced that as a concern.

“Of course, we don’t want to seize equipment. But, as a business, they should understand that the town has an operating budget,” Peaslee said.

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