North Yarmouth expands taxation to residents' personal property

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The town is now taxing some big-ticket personal property items owned by residents.

While business property has been subject to tax assessment, this is the first time in recent years that the town has asked residents to declare high-value personal property. Property must be declared if it was purchased between April 1, 2014, and April 1 of this year.

The change is meant to achieve fairness between commercial and personal property assessments, but in many cases will not affect residents, Town Manager Rosemary Roy said April 30.

The Board of Selectmen agreed by consensus April 21 to authorize the distribution of personal property declaration notices, which were mailed out two days later, Roy said.

Although the personal property disclosures were supposed to be returned to the town by May 1 – a date established by the town’s assessing agent, Vision Government Solutions – the agent will not be able to work on the lists until May 18, which gives residents more time, she said.

“People shouldn’t panic (about the deadline) … just get it in when you can get it in,” Roy said. She also encouraged anyone who is confused about the assessments to contact her.

Residents with nothing to declare do not have to send back the form.

More than 100 people had either called or visited the town office as of April 30 to ask questions about the forms they had received, according to town staff.

Roy acknowledged that the time between the board’s decision and the May 1 deadline was tight, and that a letter of explanation should have accompanied the forms.

State law allows towns to tax personal property at the same rate they tax real estate, and municipalities can decide whether they want to employ the tax, Roy noted.

Items like cars, trucks and boats are already covered by excise tax. But other high-value items, including campers, riding lawnmowers and ATVs, are not, and are now subject to the new town tax.

Only items worth $1,000 or more are taxable, and the town lists many exceptions on its website (, including household furniture, TVs, and musical instruments.

The age of each declared item must be disclosed, along with a description, whether it is new or used, its cost, and the owner’s determination of the item’s current value, Roy said.

Declaration of property is based on an honor system, and the assessor will not be visiting residents’ homes to see what eligible property they may have, she said.

Roy said she has heard questions about taxing personal residential property since she became town manager 10 months ago.

“The question always comes up: ‘Is the process fair, if we only mail (the declaration form) to businesses?,'” she said. “The statute says it’s to go out to everybody.

“I had a gentleman come in two weeks ago who didn’t think the process was very fair and wanted to have his commercial (property) abated.”

She noted that the cost of mailing the forms to taxpayers, about $600 – “for probably a lot of stuff we’re going to abate, because the amount that’s going to be taxed is less than a postage stamp” – has been another factor to consider.

Despite that cost, and the added time it takes to deal with the assessments, “it’s a fair process,” Roy said. “And I think that was the end goal that the selectmen wanted.”

Nearby towns haven’t taken North Yarmouth’s approach.

Yarmouth and Freeport assess only business property, while neither Falmouth nor Cumberland assess a personal property tax for non-commercial uses, according to those towns’ managers.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.