We cannot hazard a guess on how the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will rule in Hebron Academy v. Town of Hebron, but we hope the school prevails.
Otherwise, the decision could have far-reaching impact for schools and colleges that rent their facilities for community use.
At issue is whether Hebron Academy must pay property taxes on Robinson Arena and other facilities the school rents to outside groups.
The academy rents the ice arena to area hockey teams, and the school says it might stop doing so if it is forced to continue paying taxes.
Since 2009, the town has been taxing the academy for the arena. The total bill that year came to $19,240, and the school has paid about $60,000 so far.
The issue arose during the town’s revaluation process when the assessor noted that nonprofit organizations that rent facilities must be taxed if they are not used solely for a nonprofit purpose.
“Essentially, we are obligated to tax properties that are, under the rules of the state of Maine, subject to taxation,” Hebron selectman Daniel Eichorn told the Sun Journal.
The school, meanwhile, says it earns about $137,000 annually from all facility rentals, which is only about 1 percent of its $14 million annual budget. The arena, meanwhile, costs $370,000 a year to operate and generates $36,000 in rental income.
While the issue is important to the school, the town and local hockey teams, it is even more important for the broad impact it would have on other schools and colleges that rent space for everything from summer camps to community events.
They might suddenly find themselves paying taxes on multiple facilities and might just stop allowing the public to rent those facilities.
The town feels an obligation to pursue the letter of the law, and we understand that. And a courtroom is the perfect place to determine which side is right.
But it would create chaos and ultimately hurt the public if the court rules against the school.
If that should happen, the Legislature should be prepared to remedy the situation by changing the underlying statutes.
Sun Journal, Lewiston (Dec. 11)