Tax law draws strong opinions, emotions

 

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES – This town’s selectmen needed more time to research the options and solicit public opinion regarding a state law that involves past-due tax bills.

A Maine State Law mandates that when a resident pays his or her tax bill, the money must first go toward unpaid personal property taxes. Personal property tax, also known as business equipment tax, is separate from the real-estate property tax.

The Naples Board of Selectmen on Monday voiced a variety of opinions on this law – which, if adopted – would give the overdue personal property tax bill first dibs when it comes to any money paid toward tax debts. It was a topic that drew comments from the crowd as well.

Ultimately, the personal property tax law was tabled – to be on a future agenda.

Selectman Rich Cebra was against the town adopting that policy because it would take away citizens’ freedom to decide which bill to pay first.

Chairman Jim Grattelo favored an enforceable mechanism that would ensure those few citizens don’t slack on their personal property tax bill, especially ones that have been on the books for a number of years.

Meanwhile, Selectman Bob Caron II said that the recent business equipment assessment and more public awareness of the personal property tax have brought about some payments. Caron favored continuing in this way rather than adopting the state law.

Naples Town Manager John Hawley said the practice was commonplace in Mechanic Falls and predated his arrival as town manager there more than 10 years ago.

“It was just understood. People weren’t happy about it. They knew that was the policy,” Hawley said.

He told the board that State law allows the town to put payments to personal property tax. If someone comes in to the Town Hall to pay a real-estate property tax bill, the town can apply the money to personal property tax first.

“We will notify people when it is adopted as policy,” Hawley said.

Cebra expressed his concerns about such as policy.

“People have the right to pay taxes how they want to. It is their money They have a right to spend their money how they want to,” Cebra said, adding that he viewed the potential adoption of this personal property tax as “heavy handed government.”

Chairman Grattelo said the policy would be the solution to a problem the selectmen had been trying to address.

“There is no good method for collecting personal property tax right now. This is only leverage we have. We have been complaining for years that we didn’t have a mechanism. Now, we do,” Grattelo said.

Audience member Roger Clements said, “I think it is wrong or unethical not to tell” residents, and it would be unfair to have money applied toward one tax and not another.

“I know it is difficult” to collect taxes, Clements said, “That is underhanded way to get it.”

Grattelo still viewed the policy as beneficial for the town.

“For over a year, personal property tax was on the agenda nearly every single time. Other businesses weren’t paying it. Finally, got our arms around it,” he said, adding the adoption of the policy would put some teeth in the collection process.

Additionally, citizens who are struggling financially can work out a payment plan with the town, Grattelo said.

Selectmen Caron disagreed abruptly with the ability to do payment plans.

“No, they cannot. Your attorney will tell you: Don’t enter into a payment plan. Legal said don’t set up payment plans to pay taxes   - I have to look at my notes. They advised the town not to set up payment plans for back taxes,” Caron said.

 

Grattelo asked, “Why would anyone in town pay personal property tax, if we don’t do anything?”

Caron said the situation has improved.

“We have done a much better job in the last year-and-a-half to get people to pay their [personal property] taxes. If that is still working well, let’s keep on it, instead of adopting a policy,” he said.

Later, Caron said the board should discuss the subject again and let Naples residents weigh in on it.

“Let’s put this on the agenda. Let us see what the public says,” Caron said.

Grattelo backed the proposed policy, saying, “If the majority of the people are paying their taxes, it is not unreasonable to get people to pay taxes.”

The board voted, 5-0, to schedule it for the next meeting, which is March 26, and hold a public hearing on the policy.

Naples resident Doug Bogdan explained to the selectmen why he favored such a policy. It is about fairness to the people who pay tax bills when they are due and those who postpone parting with their money.

He said when real estate taxes are owed to town, the town can legally put a lien on the property, putting pressure on taxpayer to pay debt. However, with personal property tax, there is no lien process; and this policy would create an incentive for people to keep up on personal property taxes.

“If we are going with less of business equipment tax (income), we are going to collect that missing money.  It is a win for the town to do this,” he said. “We pay our taxes on time, and we would like to see others do that.”

“As the guys who collect the taxes, you should adopt this policy,” Bogdan said. “This is taxes owed to the town. They are owed to me, to everybody. Go that route and collect for the rest of us.”

 

 

 

 

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