Nonprofits’ payments debated in Bar Harbor

Posted March 22, 2010, at 7:52 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:46 a.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — According to Town Councilor Jane Disney, more payments in lieu of taxes, or PILT, could generate more than $100,000 in additional revenue for the town.

That’s why Disney suggested at last week’s council meeting that the town send out a friendly letter to all the nonprofit entities that own land in Bar Harbor to see what they might be willing to contribute. As nonprofits, they don’t have to pay taxes, but a little from each one could make a difference, she reasoned. Disney used to run a now-defunct local nonprofit and now works for another, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.

“They add up to something that could be meaningful,” she said of the possible payments.

Council members attending the meeting split evenly over the idea.

Besides MDI Bio Lab, nonprofits in Bar Harbor include Acadia National Park, The Jackson Laboratory, College of the Atlantic, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and others. The land they own makes up more than 20 percent of the total assessed value of all the land within Bar Harbor’s boundary, according to town officials. If taxed by the town, the land would generate an additional $2.8 million each year in property tax revenue for the town of Bar Harbor.

“What if they simply paid 5 percent of what their tax bills would be?” Disney asked rhetorically. Five percent would be $140,000, she said. Ten percent would be $280,000. Sending out a letter merely would be a way for the town to start a conversation with local nonprofits about possible payments in lieu of taxes, she said.

Some organizations already give the town PILTs, according to Town Manager Dana Reed. Jackson Lab has donated $63,654 to Bar Harbor this year, and in 2009 the town received $110,625 from Acadia, which is required by law to make PILTs to towns where it owns land.

Councilor Paul Paradis opposed the idea of sending out a letter, however. He said the town sent one to local nonprofits in 2004, but didn’t get much back.

“We got $500 out of it,” Paradis said. “I just don’t see that we’re going to get a big return on this. I don’t see us getting anywhere near $140,000 out of this.”

Paradis said such a letter also might ruffle some feathers. Many nonprofits such as the YMCA or the local housing authority provide services to the town, he said, and a letter might be interpreted as a lack of gratitude or cooperation.

“I worry about the legality of it,” said Paradis, who owns a local hardware store. “They’re specifically exempted [from paying taxes] by law. I think we need to respect that.”

Councilor Rob Jordan sided with Disney, saying he thought it could benefit the town to send out another letter to all local nonprofits.

But when it came to a vote, the board failed to reach a majority to support Disney’s motion. Disney, Jordan and Peter St. Germain voted in favor of sending the letter. Paradis, Ruth Eveland and Sandy McFarland voted against it. Councilor Greg Veilleux was not at the meeting to break the tie, so it failed by a 3-3 vote.

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