Naples business tax policy tabled, forever

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Residents got a chance to speak for and against a proposed policy that would allow the Town of Naples to apply people’s property tax payments toward old debts on their business tax account.

However, the tax-payment policy will not be implemented in Naples.

Following the public hearing, the Naples Board of Selectmen killed the proposed policy by tabling it indefinitely.

According to Naples Town Manager John Hawley, the board is considering another way to collect personal property tax in a timelier manner.

“The alternative route” would be for the Town of Naples to require that business owners bring their personal property tax bill balance to zero before receiving an annual business license, he said.

“We would establish a stricter requirement to have a business license,” Hawley said. “The specifics have yet to be ironed out.”

The personal property tax, also called a business equipment tax, is applicable for business owners. It is different than real estate property taxes. During the past year, the town assessor went through the process of updating the business equipment tax accounts. Additionally, over the past few years, the selectmen — as well as residents at selectmen’s meetings — have discussed how to put pressure on business owners who owe past due bills on their personal property tax accounts.

The public hearing on the proposed tax-payment policy was held March 26; and it drew a variety of opinions from locals. The selectmen, too, were split on their viewpoints.

Longtime resident Roger Clement, who attends almost every selectmen meeting, testified during the hearing.

“This is disingenuous. The next thing is to take the excise tax and apply it to ‘over there’ or toward what they owe the recreation department,” Clements said.

“I think it is the wrong thing to do — to allocate that money anywhere other than where the taxpayers want it to go,” he said.

A second resident said he agreed with Clements. He said payments should not be applied to any other account than what the taxpayer is trying to pay. He referred to the proposed policy as “underhanded.”

Doug Bogdan also attends many selectmen meetings. In fact, for years, he used to videotape the bimonthly meetings.

“This is a wonderful idea. The town should move in this direction,” Bogdan said.

Later that evening, the personal property tax policy came up on the agenda. First, the board had to vote to withdraw the motion that tabled the agenda item two weeks earlier.

Selectman Rich Cebra has been against the policy from the get-go, saying it takes away resident’s personal freedom to pay their taxes in the order they desire. Cebra did some research, he said.

“I asked people at the law library in Augusta how to read the law,” he said. “It says, ‘may, upon the request of the taxpayer, apply against taxes due on the personal property tax account.’”

His other issue is that the real estate tax account and the personal property tax account would have different numbers.

Chairman Jim Grattelo preceded his comments with, “I would like to weigh in on this.”

“I was in favor. I received phone calls from Roger [Clements] and someone else. They have both persuaded me that if we reinstated vendors’ or business license that could be the mechanism to” collect personal property tax owed to the town, Grattelo said.

After some discussion, the chairman asked, “Can we agree that we should have a mechanism to collect our personal property tax?”

Board members discussed the idea of establishing a town-level business license that must be annually renewed and would be contingent on the business owner being up-to-date on their personal property taxes. The legality of that was talked about.

During a later date, the board discovered it was unlawful for the town to withhold a liquor license until a business pays its personal property taxes — or for any other reason. Municipalities either approve or deny a liquor license based on state law.

However, if a town sets up a municipal-level liquor license, it could deny the license based on nonpayment of personal property tax.

On the other hand, not every business in town relies on a liquor license to operate. So that solution would only apply to a percentage of business owners.

For more than a year, the argument has been that there should be a fair playing field when it comes to paying this tax. It cannot be that some pay and some have outstanding debts that are ignored.

“If we collect from some and not all –— that is immoral. That is immoral,” Grattelo said.

“We have a motion on the floor and it will fail, 2 to 2. Then, let’s table it,” he said.

The board tabled it. Selectman Bob Caron II was absent, which was why the potential of a split vote arose.

According to the auditor who serves the Town of Casco, the personal property tax typically accounts for between 2 and 5% of a town’s tax revenue.

Please follow and like us: