Orono council opposes two tax items on ballot

Posted Oct. 20, 2009, at 11:40 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Lianne Harris knows that, should voters pass Question 2 next month, she probably would end up with some money in her pocket. But that doesn’t mean Harris, an Orono town councilor, likes the statewide referendum to reduce motor vehicle taxes on some cars.

Harris and five other councilors present at Monday night’s regular council meeting voted unanimously in favor of resolutions opposing both the excise tax referendum and another ballot measure that calls for tax and expenditure limitations on state and local government.

The council voted 6-0 — Councilor Judy Sullivan was absent — to release the resolutions against Question 2, which asks voters whether they favor reducing the motor vehicle excise tax for certain vehicles, and Question 4, also known as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Question 2 calls for a reduction in excise tax on vehicles less than 6 years old or those that are energy-efficient, such as the hybrid car Harris said she owns.

“I’d like to note that I would benefit from this because of the car that I recently purchased, and I firmly support our resolution,” she said.

Town Manager Catherine Conlow told the councilors should Question 2 pass, Orono could face an estimated $240,000 reduction in auto excise tax revenues, which would require the town to increase its property tax rate by 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in order to replace the lost revenue.

The proposed reductions would kick in Jan. 1, she said, which means the town would have to go back to its already approved operating budget and make reductions.

Rep. Jim Martin, D-Orono, who spoke against Questions 2 and 4, told the council about 68 percent of Maine people would receive no tax reduction whatsoever should the excise tax question pass.

“So what you’re doing is you’re shifting the burden of maintaining roads on to a smaller population of people, and you’re also shifting the burden onto property tax owners who live in those communities,” Martin said of the excise tax referendum. “It’s not fair, because not everybody is paying their fare share to use the roads.”

Martin said he is against TABOR II, which limits government spending increases to inflation and population growth, because of the potential of loss of local control, and the high cost to towns. Under TABOR II, voter approval would be required for tax or spending increases beyond the growth cap. Towns could be responsible for the thousands of dollars it costs to run a town referendum.

No one from the audience spoke Monday in favor of either ballot measure.

The Orono council also voted Monday to contribute $6,927 in funds from the capital reserve equipment fund towards the City of Bangor Fire Department’s purchase of a tanker truck. The truck would be stored at the Bangor Fire Department’s Griffin Road fire station, near the Stillwater Avenue-Essex Street area of the Bangor-Orono border. That area of Orono is largely rural and without city water.

jbloch@bangordailynews.net

990-8287

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