TREMONT — A bill in the Legislature intended to “protect the elderly from tax lien foreclosures” is pitting Gov. Paul LePage against municipal officials.
“I don’t know a single town trying to foreclose a property for profit reasons,” Tremont Town Manager Christopher Saunders told the Islander last week.
By making it more challenging for local governments to take enforcement action against delinquent senior property taxpayers, “there is concern that if someone wanted to game the system, they could just stop paying their property taxes,” Saunders added.
The Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Taxation issued a 7-3-1 “ought to pass” vote on Feb. 27 on an amended bill that originally proposed to add new steps to the preforeclosure and postforeclosure tax lien processes.
The amendment simplified the language of the bill and dropped several provisions, including the 65-and-older age specification.
Once the amendment is processed by the revisions office, the House will debate the tax committee’s three reports before the bill goes to the Senate.
The bill, dubbed “An Act to Protect the Elderly from Tax Lien Foreclosures,” was sponsored by Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester in early January on behalf of LePage.
LePage discussed it with members of the Joint Standing Committee on Taxation at the Maine State House in early February and said it’s meant to protect homeowners 65 years of age or older.
He cited an elderly couple in Albion, Richard and Leonette Sukeforth, who lost their shorefront home to the town in 2015 because of nonpayment of taxes.
But according to Kate Dufour, the director of the state and federal relations department at the Maine Municipal Association, before the amendments were made, LD 1629 would have shifted “far too much burden on municipal officials and property taxpayers in the community.”
Referring to the Albion case, she said the governor left out the other side of the story.
“Municipalities are being put on trial, and the evidence isn’t there,” she said.
Among other requirements, the earlier version of the bill would have introduced a hold on the sale of a delinquent senior’s property until the amount of taxes owed equals to half the value of the property.
“This will take decades,” said Dufour. “Meanwhile, young families, business owners and seniors who are absolutely on top of everything pick up more burden, and that’s not fair.”
At the earlier February hearing, LePage also described municipal officials who foreclose and sell tax acquired property as “scammers.”