June 22, 2018
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Why Houlton should have granted Maliseet Indians a tax waiver

By Brenda Commander, Merlon Tomah, Linda Raymond, John Flewelling, Sandra Hayes, Suzanne Desiderio and Crystal Tucker

There has been a lot of information in the news lately with regard to the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and payment of property taxes, or “payment in lieu of taxes,” especially after the Houlton Town Council recently voted to not waive a payment to the town. We would like to take this opportunity to present some additional information regarding our requests for a tax waiver.

In 2011, Town Manager Doug Hazlett suggested that we request a tax waiver from the town based on all the infrastructure upgrades we have brought to the town, the citizens of Houlton and the surrounding area. A list of projects was completed and presented to Hazlett for the 2011 tax year. On October 11, 2011, the Houlton Town Council voted to grant a tax waiver to the tribe in the amount of $38,380.73 due to the improvements made to town-owned roads.

On Sept. 6, 2012, a similar request for a tax waiver was submitted to Acting Town Manager Cathy O’Leary along with a summary of the tribe’s projects to date. A revised statement of projects was submitted to Town Manager Eugene Conlogue in October 2012, to reflect the current state of two projects in progress. It is troubling that some members of the Houlton Town Council do not recognize that the list of projects is a list of projects done to date and that two of the projects listed were still under way as of October 2012.

We would like to take this opportunity to share with the people of Houlton and the surrounding communities a list of some projects the tribe has been involved in. Many of these projects have not only improved the infrastructure in the area, but they also have provided a large number of jobs in the community and injected some much needed revenue into the area’s economy.

Please keep in mind, these are highly competitive grants, and we undertake the process of applying for them with all the residents of Houlton and the surrounding communities in mind. That’s why we can use some of the funding to work on projects that benefit everyone, like the Foxcroft Road Water and Sewer Project, but can’t use the funding to work on projects that do not directly benefit the tribe, like paving the Gentle Memorial Building parking lot or resurfacing the tennis courts.

• 1987: $250,000 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to construct a 4,200-square-foot tribal administration building.

• 1994: $5.5 million HUD grant to construct 50 housing units.

• 1994: $1.2 million grant from Indian Health Service for drinking water and wastewater sanitation facilities. This grant brought town water and sewage lines out the Foxcroft Road, allowing local families to tie into the public water system. The ownership of this line was transferred to the Houlton Water Company.

• 1995-1996: $1 million congressional appropriation to construct new Lowery Bridge over the Meduxnekeag River. This bridge replaced the old trestle bridge that had been closed for years, thus restoring a major link between U.S. Route 1 and the Foxcroft Road.

• 1995-1996: $488,763 was received from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to repair the Lowery Road, a town-owned road. The town of Houlton Public Works Department was hired to build this road.

• 1996: $300,000 HUD grant to construct a new health department building.

• 2000: $300,000 HUD grant to construct Maliseet Riverside Gymnasium.

• 2000-2001: $184,730 grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to repair and pave the Bell Road, a town-owned road.

• 2003-2004: $2.2 million HUD grant to construct 18 new homes, plus a Head Start facility.

• September 2010: $69,389 from Bureau of Indian Affairs to survey and design Eagle Drive, a town-owned road.

• October 2010: began construction on a six-unit, two-bedroom apartment building, completed in 2011.

• November 2010: completed construction of an eight-unit, three-bedroom apartment building at a cost of $2 million dollars.

• August 2011: notified by the Maine Department of Transportation that our Public Land Highways Discretionary Program application for the new construction of Currier Road Phase II was funded in the amount of $1,151,400. The project began in fall 2012.

• 2011: $137,516 funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for stormwater management on and around Pearce Brook. The project was completed in the fall of 2012.

• 2012: $30,000 given to RSU 29 as seed money to start a high school football program at Houlton High School.

• 2013: $600,000 for construction of an athletic field on Foxcroft Road to benefit the local high school football and baseball teams and other activities.

Granted, all of these projects may not have affected the town of Houlton directly, but many of them did. Even though the town did not receive direct dollars, the town did receive a strong economic impact, as did locally owned businesses, which benefited from job creation, salaries and increased local spending.

We do, however, hope we have shed some light for the residents and educated the members of the town council as to the benefit the tribe provides and why we would want a tax waiver. So when the question is asked, “What makes the tribe different from any other tax-paying citizen?” above are listed 16 projects and about $17 million in reasons that make the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians different from other tax-paying citizens.

Brenda Commander is tribal chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. Merlon Tomah, Linda Raymond, John Flewelling, Sandra Hayes, Suzanne Desiderio and Crystal Tucker compose the tribal council.

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