Naples looking at change for personal property tax collection

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Naples Selectboard Chairman Jim Gratello holds up a proposed plan to upgrade the intersection of Routes 302 and 35. 

NAPLES — The Selectboard is considering a change to the way it collects personal property tax payments at its next meeting.

“Right now, when tax payments are received, we do log them in chronological order so that when somebody comes in, we pay off their oldest tax bills first,” said new Town Manager John Hawley. “Well, state law allows us to apply those tax payments to personal property tax, so if somebody has outstanding personal property tax, they are coming in to make a real estate payment, we can take that money and put it towards their outstanding personal property tax first, before their property tax. But it has to be adopted policy.”

According to a guide to property tax from the Maine Municipal Association, personal property includes “tangible equipment, fixtures, machinery, etc.” while real property includes land and buildings.

Selectboard Member James Turpin expressed support for the proposed change.

“I think it’s great,” said Turpin, who was echoed by Chairman Jim Gratello.

“We’ve been complaining for years that we’re not collecting personal property [tax], and now we have a mechanism to be able to do that,” Gratello said.

Selectboard Member Rich Cebra disagreed.

“I don’t like it one bit,” said Cebra. “If a person comes here to pay a real estate tax, and he wants to pay his real estate tax, the town should not say, ‘no I’m going to apply it to something else.’ It’s just not right.”

“The fact of the matter is, the majority of the people who owe and are not paying personal property taxes are business… several of those businesses are not struggling, they’ve just chosen not to pay personal property taxes,” said Gratello, who said the town was currently without a mechanism for compelling personal property tax payment.  

Cebra sited the state law that allows towns to take this approach and noted that towns have the option but are not required to do so.

“There’s a huge difference in Maine between the words may and shall,” said Cebra, who is also a state representative. “And this gives us the option. I don’t think we should do it.”

Hawley said the approach was employed in Mechanic Falls where he had previously served as manager several years ago.

“Where I came from, this is what we used,” Hawley said Monday night. “It became commonplace, it was in place for probably twenty years… It was just understood. People weren’t necessarily happy about it, but they knew what the policy was.”

Selectboard Member Robert Caron II suggested discussing the proposal further before taking action.

“Let’s table it. Let’s talk about it again … and see what the public says,” Caron said.

“I agree, let’s give it some time,” Gratello said.

The board ultimately voted unanimously to table the issue until the next meeting, which is slated for March 26.

The tax issue wasn’t the only item tabled Monday night. The board also decided to take a little more time on a proposed upgrade to the intersection at Route 302 and Route 35 (Harrison Road).

“Basically for the purpose of the public, thanks to Rich, the DOT has set aside money to update the intersection where Bray’s is — Tony’s and the barn where we’re going to insert crosswalks …” said Gratello.

The $60,000 project would include adding sidewalks and crosswalks with pedestrian-accessible push buttons and would require a $30,000 town investment with matching funds from the state.

Selectman Kevin Rogers said that the “concept is great” but suggested that a turning lane should also be added.

Cebra, who serves on the Transportation Committee in the State Legislature, said that Route 35 is considered a minor collector road by the state and “it’s so far off the radar.”

“If you want turning lanes, we’ d have to do it ourselves,” Cebra said. “And  then they wouldn’t let you do that anyway.”

Rogers asked if the vote to authorize the manager to enter into an agreement with the Department of Transportation could be delayed so that Cebra could at least check to have the department to verify that there’s an “absolute no way in hell” the turning lane could be added.

“I could probably make the call right now and a get an ‘absolute no way in hell,'” Cebra said to laughter.

The board eventually tabled the vote until the next meeting for Cebra to reach out to the department.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Naples Selectboard Chairman Jim Gratello holds up a proposed plan to upgrade the intersection of Routes 302 and 35.

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