Naples tables business equipment tax policy

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — It became very clear on Monday night that most Naples residents do not like the idea of paying an annual business equipment tax, especially on items for which they have already paid a pretty penny plus sales tax.

However, it was equally clear that many in the audience view the personal property tax as a lawful and valuable revenue stream.

Without it, the brunt of the cost of operating the town will fall on the shoulders of the landowners.

If a policy is adopted, it would provide the Town of Naples with leverage to get unpaid personal property taxes — provided those debts are not more than 10 years old.

The Naples Budget Committee Chairman Jim Turpin weighed in on the hot-button topic.

Turpin likened the personal property tax process to buying an automobile. The buyer pays a sales tax when purchasing a vehicle; and then, the new car owner pays an excise tax to the town in which he or she resides, he said.

The personal property tax “is a valid revenue stream,” Turpin said.

If the Town of Naples is “not regimented and consistent about it, that revenue should be made up elsewhere,” he said.

“I believe the budget committee’s focus is to maintain the budget where it is now. We don’t want our mil rate getting away from us,” Turpin said.

On Monday, the Naples Board of Selectmen elected to table the personal property tax policy until it heard back from the town assessor, John E. O’Donnell & Associates, Inc.

Chairman Bob Caron II said he was waiting on that piece of information.

“I was hoping by tonight to have a number for what he (the assessor) would charge the town. I don’t think we want to move forward unless we know the cost,” Caron said.

In the past, the town has relied on an honor system or self-disclosure when it comes to knowing what taxable items are owned by area businesses. However, that tactic seems uneven with some people declaring items and paying the tax, while others do not.

Rather, the personal property tax status list appears to be lopsided. Resident Jim Grattelo expressed that concept.

Grattelo said that the tax was unfairly doled out to some business owners while other businesses in the public eye get off scot-free. (The origin of the phrase scot-free means to be exempt from royal taxes.)

“Nobody likes paying personal property taxes.” Grattelo said, adding that elected officials do not possess the power to decide who is taxed and who is not.

“Either abolish the whole thing or not,” he said.

“There should be policy for collecting personal property taxes,” he said.

“If not, refund the money to all the people who’ve already paid. If people (in Naples) don’t pay personal property taxes, don’t count on it, cut budget by 20%, or add (the shortfall) to property taxes,” Grattelo said.

Selectman Christina Powers responded to his comments.

“I had asked that this line item stay on the agenda so we can continue have this conversation. In all the time, there hasn’t been favoritism. We are addressing the issues, there isn’t anything involving political games and preferential treatment,” Powers said.

Earlier in the discussion, Selectman Rich Cebra had talked about personal property taxes from the perspective of a business owner. Cebra owns the Steamboat Landing Miniature Golf Course.

“It is one of my least favorite taxes. I paid my sales tax when I bought it. Then, I have to pay it once a year,” Cebra said.

He questioned aloud how to “go after” debtors, and said he would like to know how much of the past due balances are still collectable.

“If we are paying real estate taxes, why should I pay every year on 30-year-old miniature golf clubs,” Cebra said.

Resident and business-owner Maggie Krainin also spoke on the subject.

“It has come to my consciousness that the town is getting hard-lined on many, many issues. You may be technically correct: It is difficult to enforce laws like the personal property tax. You would never be able to put the man power behind it. I doubt it would be worth the cost to do it,” Krainin said.

Resident Jim Corrigan indicated that he believed that personal property tax collection was a manageable task.

He talked about Town Meeting 2015, when the majority of residents voted against paying a higher mil rate than the state-set limit. In June and July, a budget committee with additional members made the cuts necessary to keep the mil rate down.

Corrigan said his wife owns a small business in Casco and pays personal property taxes in that town. He said that like most citizens, although he dislikes more government and more taxes, he understands that taxation is necessary.

“These are things we have accepted,” he said.

He said he doubted that having O’Donnell’s assessor “walking into every business in town” would be a suitable solution to the problem.

“It is a big issue. A pause button would be really good,” Corrigan said.

The selectmen will revisit the topic of personal property taxes when they meet again on Monday, Feb. 22, which is their regularly-scheduled date. Inclement weather caused the postponement of the meeting slated for Feb. 1. That is why the board is convening two Mondays in a row.

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