HAMPDEN, Maine — Citing an abysmal economy and the likelihood of continuing financial restrictions and declining revenues, the Hampden Town Council voted 4-2 against a proposal to exempt active military members from paying excise taxes on vehicles.
The original proposal called for giving all active members of the U.S. Armed Forces exemptions from paying auto excise taxes for all their vehicles, but was was amended to give each serviceman or woman one vehicle exemption.
While each councilor who spoke said they were strong supporters of U.S. soldiers and sailors, the rose concerns that any loss of revenue — which could make up for expected losses in funding from the state — could be particularly damaging and result in drastic tax hikes.
“Absolutely. There may have been more support if the [economic] climate had been different,” Janet Hughes, mayor and councilor, said. “Right now, we only know what the governor’s proposed, but the Maine Municipal Association worked up a list showing the potential effect on each individual town, and we looked at projected expenses from the school budget, so we could see our taxes going up as high as 20, 30 percent.”
Hughes and fellow councilors Tom Brann, Jean Lawlis and Bill Shakespeare voted to reject the proposal. Councilors Carol Duprey and Shelby Wright voted for it, citing benefits they thought active military personnel were entitled to as a reward for service.
Brann said he wouldn’t support it because the money not paid into the town tax base would create a burden that would have to be borne by others during an already difficult economic period.
“I have served in the military, but to give this kind of benefit to certain members of our community… I just don’t see any hardships here that would justify voting for this,” Shakespeare said.
Some Maine towns and cities like Gardiner and Waterville have approved giving tax exemptions to active duty military personnel.
Lawlis said it was a tough vote for her to make personally, but she came down on the side of fiscal responsibility and that every decision the council makes has to be evaluated with a filter regarding cost.
“I think there are going to be many more decisions like that, because we have a history of supporting outside agencies that do great things for people in our community,” she said. “We have a new recreation center, we have the pool, the library and the transfer station — and these are all desired services — but there are also people who can’t afford to get a tax bill that’s $800 more than their last one. We could be looking at very hard times.”