HARPSWELL — Brunswick representatives raised questions about taxation and Harpswell’s request for 10 shellfish licenses at Tuesday’s renewed border talks.
The meeting was the first formal discussion about the border issue since members of Harpswell’s Carrying Place Assembly questioned the location of the town line in 2008. A bill that would re-locate the town line to what Harpswell says is the historic boundary is currently in front of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government, which mandated that the towns meet.
On Tuesday night, three representatives from each town sat around a large table at Harpswell’s town office. Harpswell’s team included Board of Selectmen Chairman Jim Henderson, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane and former selectman and Carrying Place Assembly member Amy Haible. They sat across from Brunswick councilors Ben Tucker and Suzan Wilson and vice chairman of the Brunswick Marine Resources Committee, Mark Latti.
Members of the Carrying Place Assembly sat shoulder to shoulder in a row of folding chairs in the front of the audience. Residents, officials and shellfishermen from both towns filled in behind them.
Henderson began the meeting with a summary of answers to a list of questions Brunswick’s town attorney, Pat Scully, had prepared about which town would have authority over the highly valued mud flats if the boundary is changed to the high water mark, as Harpswell is proposing. The questions included which town will have taxing authority over the flats, which town will issue building permits for docks that extend below the high water mark, and which town will issue shellfish harvesting permits in the flats.
Harpswell’s answer to every question was: Brunswick. Although the border would change, Henderson explained, Brunswick would continue to manage the mud flats the same way they do now.
But at the end of his summary, Henderson surprised members of the Brunswick team by asking for 10 shellfish licenses in the Middle Bay mud flats.
“We would at least propose that there might be some opportunity for some Harpswell people to participate in harvesting in (Middle Bay), maybe 10 licenses, but nothing to try to interfere with the livelihood of the folks working there,” Henderson said.
“This is coming as a surprise,” Latti responded a few minutes later.
Latti said that Brunswick only has 52 commercial shellfish licenses, so giving away 10 would take away approximately 20 percent of the total available licenses for Brunswick harvesters.
“This is not a deal breaker, we’re just asking for that as part of this consideration and if for some reason Brunswick doesn’t feel it can give a few inches here, we thought we should ask,” Henderson said.
In an interview following the discussion, Latti said he was concerned about Harpswell’s sudden interest in shellfish licenses.
“We were surprised by the fact that after hearing in front of the Legislature that it wasn’t about the clam flats, at the meeting Harpswell asked for what would be 20 percent of the clamming licenses,” Latti said.
In an interview, Henderson said “it might have been a poor decision quite frankly for us to even raise that,” but said the request was “just a test to see if they’d be wiling to allow Harpswell to participate in any way in that area.”
Other than the request for shellfish licenses, the another sticking point of the discussion was taxation. Under Harpswell’s proposal, properties that move into Harpswell along Route 123 would continue to be taxed by Brunswick tax assessors. Both Tucker and Pat Scully, Brunswick’s lawyer, wondered if taxing certain properties within a town differently than other properties was constitutional.
Haible said that the total taxes collected from properties along Route 123 is approximately $16,000, and that figuring out taxation on that land is “not insurmountable.”
Henderson said that that if the proposed taxation scheme is unconstitutional, then perhaps Harpswell could continue to tax those properties, but send a check to Brunswick for whatever amount was collected.
“We’re going to have our legal staff examine all those issues,” he said after the meeting. “We don’t think any of the objections they’ve raised are impossible to over come.”
Brunswick and Harpswell members interviewed after the meeting said they thought it went well.
“I thought both sides listened to each other and probably learned something new,” Haible said.
“Overall, with the exception of the issue of the clam licenses, it was a good first meeting,” Latti said. “Now we need to go back to our groups and hear what the people we represent say.”
Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Teams from Harpswell (left) and Brunswick (right) discuss the border dispute, at the Harpswell town office Tuesday night.