To the Editor:
When legislators cast their votes on the governor’s proposed budget, they inadvertently could be crippling one of Maine’s most unique and special assets: its children’s camps. The proposed budget would levy a hefty property tax on a number of nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations, Maine camps among them.
Camp Beech Cliff in Mount Desert could be among them.
Most people think that the budget proposal to impose a new property tax on nonprofit, tax exempt organizations will affect only large organizations, such as hospitals and colleges. They may not understand that under that budget, Maine’s nonprofit, tax-exempt children’s camps also would be heavily taxed.
These camps own real property and buildings used to conduct their programs. However, these properties were donated or purchased many years ago. Like all real property, they have increased in value to the point that their current assessed values will subject them to taxation under the proposed budget. The resulting tax bills would put some camps out of business; others simply would have to reduce spending on the children they serve.
Nonprofit, tax-exempt camps are funded mostly from donations and grants, so they can offer children a camp experience at little or no cost to families who otherwise could not afford it. In addition, there are camps that provide critical services to children with disabilities and families dealing with cancer. They, too, rely on fundraising and scholarships to cover the cost for campers who cannot afford the tuition. These camps don’t deny admission to families who cannot afford it.
If the new budget is passed, these camps will have dig into their resources to pay the tax bills. That means most camps will have to make cuts to the programs offered, and those that offer scholarships likely will be forced to reduce the number available or the amount of each. Some of these camps will cease to exist because they can’t afford this added cost.
There have been camps in Maine for more than 100 years. Today, there are more than 200 camps, and about half of those are nonprofit. They include long-operating Boy and Girl Scout camps as well.
While Maine camps attract young people from all over the country, a substantial portion of campers are from inside the state. In fact, at least half of all “camper days” are filled by Maine children.
The benefits of going to camp are confirmed by a recent American Camp Association (ACA) research entitled “Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience.”
The proposed budget is a moral crisis for the state and for the legislators. We have to fight for our young people. We have to urge our governor and legislators not to pass the budget as it is currently written. There is still time to make changes to shelter camps from this unreasonable burden.
Ron Hall, Executive Director
Maine Summer Camps