SCARBOROUGH — Town Councilors were openly discontent Wednesday night about the possible elimination of municipal revenue sharing in Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget, and the subsequent increase in local property taxes that could result.
The council was joined by state Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough; Republican state Reps. Karen Vachon and Heather Sirocki of Scarborough, and Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, in a workshop to provide legislative insight.
In their meeting afterwards, councilors unanimously approved sending the Legislature a letter, crafted by Town Manager Tom Hall and some councilors, urging the adoption of a biennial budget that does not significantly increase reliance on property taxes.
“Property tax is a killer for people,” McLean told the council.
He endorsed increasing the Homestead Exemption “for all people, not just seniors,” and said “elimination of revenue sharing would be devastating to cities and towns.”
But McLean said he also thinks there is room for tax reform.
While Sen. Amy Volk agreed – “It’s no secret that I’ve been a proponent of tax reform for a long time,” Volk said – she did not explicitly support the specific tax reforms the governor is proposing.
All four legislators noted that even though the proposed budget has been outlined, nothing is final.
“I think it’s really important to take a ‘what you can see’ approach,” McLean said.
At the end of the day, until the budget is passed, everything is conjecture, Volk added.
Council Chairwoman Jessica Holbrook said her main concern is the potential loss of the Homestead Exemption for taxpayers under 65.
“I am poor,” Holbrook said. “The loss of the Homestead Exemption, it hurts.”
Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina read the council’s letter to the Legislature.
“The modification to the Homestead Exemption and the elimination of municipal revenue sharing, resulting in approximately $725,000 in lost revenue to the town of Scarborough, will have direct and deleterious effects on property taxpayers,” Caterina said.
The letter urges state lawmakers to craft a “budget compromise that recognizes and strengthens the partnership between state and local government.”
If the proposed tax reforms are passed into law, the council wants the Legislature allow towns and cities to adopt a local alternative, or a “local-option sales tax,” as a way to shift away from a “total reliance on the regressive property tax.”