April 07, 2020

TAXPAYER BILL OF RIGHTS Opposition pervades much of St. John Valley

MADAWASKA – St. John Valley towns and school districts have been lining up against the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Indeed, finding a municipality or school district that supports the TABOR initiative is like hunting for the end of the rainbow.

On Oct. 10, the Madawaska Board of Selectmen voted unanimously against TABOR, saying that it is not the way to go to lower the tax burden.

The Van Buren Town Council approved a resolution against TABOR on Oct. 16, saying that it is not the direction the town or the state should take. Councilors said TABOR would have negative effects on critical local services.

St. Agatha may be among the most recent municipalities to take a stand. Leaders here voted unanimously against TABOR on Monday night.

Proponents of the tax initiative say it would not make cuts to current taxes, but would instead limit the growth of future taxes. The formula would limit tax growth to the cost of living and the growth of population. It would also call for a supermajority vote, two-thirds vote, to increase taxes or user fees. The measure would call for referendum votes to be held on increases.

“While we [selectmen] respect the taxpayers’ desire to vote to lower the property tax burden and their belief that lowering taxes may enhance business opportunities, [we] don’t feel TABOR is the way to do it,” St. Agatha Town Manager Christine Therrien said Tuesday. “[Selectmen] feel TABOR would end up hurting children and the elderly.

“While they understand where people are coming from with the cost of taxes, after evaluation, they had to oppose TABOR,” Therrien said. “The vote was unanimous.”

“TABOR would abolish Maine’s long tradition of majority rule by requiring a supermajority,” according to the resolution signed by four of five Town Council members in Van Buren. “TABOR establishes poorly designed and irrational restriction formulas that attempt to dictate the amount of money local voters can raise.”

“[TABOR] directly interferes with local control over crucial budget decisions,” the town leaders wrote.

Frenchville selectmen have not voted on a TABOR resolution. Town Manager Philip Levesque said that he never brought one to the board.

“However, I know from informal conversations I have had with them and they’ve had amongst themselves at meetings, they are against TABOR,” Levesque said Tuesday. “I have never heard any one of them say anything good about TABOR.”

While the Eagle Lake Board of Selectmen has not taken action, Town Manager James Nadeau also believes the board would oppose TABOR. The board will get that chance at its next meeting, Nadeau said.

The Fort Kent Town Council has not voted on a TABOR initiative, and Town Manager Don Guimond said he did not know how councilors would vote.

“They’ve discussed it, but took no action,” Guimond said. They watched a video explaining how towns would be affected, “but no one made a motion for or against it,” he said.

“We voted to oppose TABOR,” SAD 24 Superintendent Clayton Belanger said Tuesday. “We are one of the 30 percent of school districts that would be losing money.

“It was unanimous,” he said of the vote. “We would lose $5 million over the first 10 years.”

For them, it would be because of declining enrollment. SAD 24 is a small school district that includes Van Buren, Cyr and Hamlin.

SAD 27, a seven-town district based in Fort Kent, voted 7-3 against the TABOR proposal.

The school committee at Madawaska has discussed TABOR twice, and wanted more information before taking a stand for or against. It hasn’t happened, and probably won’t before the Nov. 7 statewide vote.

SAD 33 at St. Agatha did not discuss TABOR in any of its meetings. This district, too, is relatively small.

Correction: In a story about TABOR in Wednesday’s editions, Christine Therrien was not identified correctly. She is town manager in Madawaska.

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