Naples town assessor to hold personal property tax workshop

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Naples’ elected public officials have expressed a range of opinions about adopting a policy to encourage business-owners to pay their personal property tax.

The personal property tax, also referred to as a business equipment tax, has long been assessed.

Only recently did the Town of Naples request that the firm John E. O’Donnell & Associates update the list of businesses in Naples. This spring, business-owners received the inventory forms to fill out so that taxable items could be taxed. The business equipment tax is calculated based on that year’s mil rate.

This Monday, a representative from O’Donnell will conduct a workshop with the Naples Board of Selectmen. The workshop will begin at 6 p.m. — one hour earlier than the regular meeting.

Chairman Bob Caron II was pleased about the timing of the workshop.

On Aug. 8, board members voiced their stances on a potential policy to put a little more pressure on business-owners to pay their personal property tax.

Prior to that meeting, Naples Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak e-mailed to the selectmen copies of personal property tax ordinances from three municipalities, including Portland and South Portland. The idea is to pick and choose from the ordinances of other towns, and to pen an ordinance tailored for Naples, Caron said.

On Aug. 8, Caron asked for feedback from the selectmen on the topic.

Selectman Dana Watson spoke first.

“My point of view on this is that we are already in place with the way that the personal property tax works. If you owe property tax, you pay interest on that money. If you don’t pay interest on that money and you don’t pay the principal, you lose your land,” Watson said. “Then, someone else picks it up, pays the interest and pays the principal and it is fixed.”

“We don’t need another law,” Watson said. “We already have everything we need right in place, and it works good.”

Caron said that currently the town does not put liens on equipment when personal property tax is not paid. That is because the expense is greater than putting a lien on real estate property, he said.

The selectmen have the opportunity to propose a policy or an ordinance to help with the collection of personal property tax, Caron said. It seems fair to do so because the people doing business in Naples are making money.

“We have an overlay every year to cover the people who don’t pay taxes,” Caron said.

An overlay is a few cents added to the mil rate to compensate for the small percentage of tax bills that will remain unpaid.

Watson said the town has never levied its personal property tax, and it should not start doing that.

Regarding the sample ordinances, Watson said, “I read them. I don’t think we need them.”

Selectman Christine Powers said she would prefer to talk to Certified Maine Assessor (CMA) Paul L. Binette and other representatives from O’Donnell before making a decision.

“I am not a fan of linking it (the nonpayment of personal property tax) to liquor license renewal. We could link it to the special amusement permit. We could work with that,” Powers said.

“We know there is going to be a percentage of people who don’t pay. I want to talk to people who cannot pay, and help them understand BETA and BETR,” Powers said.

Those are the state programs which help small businesses to offset their personal property tax bills.

“I am not in favor of rushing forth with the policy,” Powers said.

Caron said the board has “talked about this since January.”

“I pay taxes. Everyone on the board pays taxes. We have to supplement more taxes for those individuals who choose not to pay,” Caron said.

“We need to collect a tax to operate the town, and it’s just not fair to cover” people who consistently do not pay their personal property taxes, he said.

Resident Roger Clement suggested putting a lien on business equipment if the owner does not keep up on taxes.

“That is the mechanism we don’t have,” Caron said. “I am not a lawyer, but we were told (by the Town Attorney) it is a much longer and a harder process to put a lien on personal property.”

Another issue that will likely be addressed at Monday’s workshop with the assessor is setting a monetary threshold. That threshold might be not sending a tax bill for small amounts like $5 or $10.

Or, the threshold could be the amount of debt owed before the town takes legal action.

“We should establish a threshold so that we don’t end up stepping over dollars to pick up pennies,” Clement said.

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