April 09, 2020

Homestead exemption

I am very pleased that the Bangor Daily is reminding us so regularly of the necessity to bring relief to property taxpayers. The homestead exemption does seem a particularly attractive method of doing this, and now is a good time to enact it. I hope the legislators are paying attention to your editorials, for they are right on target.

Lowering the sales tax sounds appealing, until you consider who it would benefit the most, the heedless spender. Just like the lottery, the sales tax is, to a large degree, a voluntary tax. The property tax hits everyone, and is most hurtful to the least well-off. Property taxes keep increasing, and usually not by the wish of any townspeople. One impact comes from state requirements — Lincolnville, for instance, will soon cross the line to 2,000 population, at which time the state says we will have to add a building inspector. This will not be free; someone will have to be hired for this job.

More significantly, the state has been decreasing its share of education costs. Towns across the state have seen their state money drop, while their education costs simply increase. One particular concern is that the state leaves the unpredictable and heavy expense of special ed needs almost entirely on the back of the town.

This all comes down to an increase in local property tax, year after year, despite the town officials’ best efforts to keep it down. A homestead exemption would charge the state with the tax on the first $10,000 (or whatever amount was chosen) for all Maine residents. This might seem like peanuts to the owner of a half-million dollar home — but he can afford whatever he’s faced with. Many people in this state live in homes assessed at $50,000 — wouldn’t they be happy to have a 20 percent reduction in their town property tax?

Yes, by all means, let’s enact a homestead exemption, and also fund the circuit-breaker program fully so that low-income homeowners and renters alike get relief from the onerous property tax. These two programs give the most direct help to the local resident who most needs it. Virginia Thorndike Lincolnville

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