April 21, 2019
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LePage vetoes bill to increase county fees; sponsor says that will create shortfall

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has issued another veto, this time of a bill that sought to increase filing fees charged by county registries of deeds in property transactions.

When a Maine resident buys property, documents are filed with the registry of deeds in the county where the property or land is located. Those documents become the public record of the transaction and are available for others who might want to inspect or make copies.

In many cases, those fees don’t cover the counties’ costs, according to Rep. Bradley Moulton, R-York, who sponsored LD 1550 because some counties were losing money.

As first drafted, the bill would have nearly doubled the registry-of-deeds filing fees from $13 to $25. Once it went through the legislative process, it was amended to increase the fees from $13 to $19.

“This bill is a tax increase and I cannot support it,” the governor wrote in his veto letter. “The registries of deeds are profit centers for the county governments used to subsidize other government functions. I believe fees are paid for a service and if counties want a tax increase, then they should go ahead and justify it on the merits.”

Moulton said he expected LD 1550 to be vetoed, but he disagreed with the governor’s characterization.

He said county government is supported by a variety of fees and taxes. Cutting fees for one function of county government can affect another function if it creates a shortfall that must then be made up by raising taxes or cutting services.

If the fee increase outlined in LD 1550 is not approved, Moulton said county government collectively will face a $1 million shortfall that could be made up by property taxes.

LePage’s letter continued: “Why should a family purchasing a new home be forced to pay more for a sheriff that protects the entire county? If county governments are having difficulty balancing their budgets, they should keep working to reduce spending. They should not try to subsidize their other operations with recording fees.”

Moulton said the governor shared with him recently his experience serving on the Kennebec County budget committee several years ago.

“He said counties make too much money,” Moulton said. “But Kennebec County has laid off people, so I don’t think that’s really the case.”

The Legislature will take up the governor’s veto when it reconvenes in mid-May. In a veto override vote, two-thirds of the Legislature must support overturning the governor’s veto.

Follow BDN writer Eric Russell on Twitter at @BDNPolitics.

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