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Press Herald Viewpoints
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Wednesday, November 13, 2002

EDITORIAL:

Islanders could stay in homes under tax plan

Copyright 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

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Correction: In an editorial Wednesday, the wrong home community was given for lobsterman Malcolm Whidden, the originator of a new property tax abatement plan. He lives in Harpswell. (November 15, 2002)

No one has suffered more from Maine's heavy reliance on the property tax than the people of Chebeague Island, so it's fitting that one of them may have found a way to lighten the load.

Over the years Chebeague has welcomed a steady stream of wealthy vacationers while saying goodbye to the children of long-time residents, who can no longer afford island housing prices and high taxes. The question that confounds local officials is how to fairly tax waterfront property without pricing out families that have lived and worked by the sea for generations.

Sitting on his wharf last summer while waiting for a load of bait, Chebeague lobsterman Malcolm Whidden may have hit on part of the answer. He scribbled down a few notes which form the basis of what has become known as the "Chebeague proposal," which will likely appear in bill form before the Legislature. While our support is contingent on the details of a bill, this plan deserves serious consideration. It could help longtime residents keep their homes without preventing the towns from collecting the tax revenue they need to fund schools and municipal services.

Whidden's idea is a simple one: If an owner promises that he will never sell his land, its taxable value would not increase faster than inflation. If the owner decides to sell anyway, he would pay a stiff penalty to the town 30 percent of the difference between the assessed value and the selling price. Collections of those penalties would offset any loss of tax revenue the program would cause.

If made law, the Chebeague proposal could be applied to any property in the state, but it would probably appeal to very few landowners. Most people view real estate as an investment and expect to make a profit when they sell. They would probably continue to pay taxes at full market value so they could avoid a penalty later. This tax program would only make sense for the small number of people who want to stay on their land for life and pass it on when they die. Even if the number of participants is small, however, the program would still be valuable if it could keep a few fishing communities like Chebeague intact.


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