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Cumberland councilors speak out against excise tax initiative

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Cumberland councilors speak out against excise tax initiative

CUMBERLAND — Town Council Chairman Ron Copp plans to draft a public letter stating the council's opposition to the proposed motor vehicle excise tax reduction and second so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Several councilors on Monday evening spoke against the excise tax initative, Question 2, following a presentation by Councilor Michael Perfetti on the impact it could have on Cumberland. Perfetti suggested the letter, which will also declare the council's opposition to Question 3, the TABOR II initiative.

Question 2 asks voters if they want to cut the rate of the municipal tax by an average of 55 percent on motor vehicles less than 6 years old, while exempting hybrid and other alternative-energy and significantly fuel-efficient vehicles from sales tax and three years of excise tax.

The tax, adopted in 1929, generates $1.3 million in annual revenues for Cumberland, Perfetti said. The money is not required by the state to be spent on roads, but that is how the money is used, he explained. Cumberland spends more than $2 million per year on road-related expenses, with the balance derived from property taxes.

Under the proposed excise tax reduction, Cumberland would lose more than $531,000 annually, Perfetti said. To make up for that loss, the town could either increase taxes to maintain the same services, cut services to maintain the current tax rate or a combination of the two. Shifting the entire loss over to property taxes would increase the town's mil rate by 46 cents, Perfetti said, meaning the owner of a $250,000 home would pay $115 more per year in taxes.

Comparatively speaking, the library has a mil rate impact of 20 cents, recreation 9 cents, trash and recycling 44 cents, 77 cents, fire/EMS 49 cents and public works 68 cents.

"My suspicion would be that all areas would get hit, somehow," Perfetti said, if the town reduced services to make up for a loss in excise taxes.

The Web site moregreennow.com argues that the initiative will encourage a conversation statewide about the fairness of Maine's excise tax, lower excise taxes by nearly half, save Maine taxpayers $80 million per year and promote cleaner air and fuel efficiency.

Perfetti pointed out, though, that two-thirds of Maine vehicles will not qualify for the tax break because of their age.

Councilor George Turner said he is concerned that some people will be tempted to vote in favor of the excise tax reduction "out of their frustration with the state government level. And they should realize that they're basically shooting themselves in the foot, or whatever metaphor you want to use. ... I don't think it's a fear that the public won't understand it, I'm afraid that they'll vote for it just because they're angry about what they at least perceive as overspending on another level. If I had my way, we'd say ‘hurrah' to the letter tonight."

Copp said that if all the vehicles in the Town Hall parking lot were counted that night, only one would benefit from the savings laid out in the initiative.

"I'm one of those people that (the initiative) benefits greatly," said Councilor Jeff Porter. Still, he called the initiative "a wolf in sheep's clothing," acknowledging that there are many who would not reap the advantages professed in the initiative language.

"I think that once people realize the number of people that actually benefit out of this, they may not be so excited," he said.

Earlier in the meeting the council forwarded the state's new model windmill ordinance to the town's Cool Cities Committee for review and recommendation. The council expects input by next month, when it may either workshop the item or send it to the Planning Board for a public hearing and recommendation.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.