Viewpoint: Time to bring this to a head 



By Sean Sweeney  

It would be fun to list all the money that out-of-state shorefront property owners are not having to pay this year. I did come across another winner of a $4 million-plus property owned by an out of stater whose taxes didn’t go down with the latest tax assessment. Instead his assessment finally reached the level of what he paid for his house many years ago. 

I did this for a number of reasons. Our Town Council is composed of, let me say, a certain bent, politically. I wanted to shame them over the fact that the winners in our tax derby this year are the wealthy and the business. Some of the greatest winners are what the media like to call the 1 percent. The losers are those that the council claim to be the most concerned about – those of us who live here, the so-called year-round community. I hear that at every meeting shouted from every chair at the dais. 

We sent this derby out of our control to people who don’t understand the nuances of our community. People who think that a piece of property on Grason Lane, a couple of hundred feet from the ocean with an ocean view, is worth more than a hundred thousand dollars less than a piece of land on Ledgelawn Avenue, and perhaps many other downtown lanes. They don’t understand that there really is a difference to living on the “other” side of Main Street. 

I’m ready to hear the argument for properties selling at $1.8 million years ago that to this day are assessed for $1.2 million. I know my house is probably worth more than it is assessed for, once it is fixed up. I’m not asking for my assessment to be lessened. I believe it, once my house is fixed up, to be fair. 

In a functioning municipal office that cared about the townspeople (you know, the one that told us not to worry, once the mill rate is set you will only see a small increase in your taxes because our budget has only gone up .5 percent). Here is what should have happened. Somebody who has oversight runs the numbers, does a printout and sees that many residents’ taxes are going up 20-90 percent. That person takes the results, puts them together and writes a memo to the head of our municipality and says we might have a real problem here.  The boss, who also cares deeply about our community, looks at it and says, “You’re right!” He or she puts their thinking cap on and comes up with some solutions and puts together a memo for Council’s consideration to let them know that there is an iceberg ahead and we are on the Titanic. Council pours over the numbers and realizes that the people they care most about are about to be clobbered, and with their collective brilliance they come up with a solution all before any tax bills have gone out.  Problem averted. 

Can we work a way out of this? Maybe. But somebody has to give a damn and do some hard work. You know all that talk about affordability may be just talk and you folks on Ledgelawn and Greely and Ash and…will just have to suck it up and pay. Or somebody looks at parking money or ship money or whatever we have in reserves and says we are only going to raise taxes on people a certain amount and the rest will be abated with those funds. And next year and for future years we will even out our tax structure so that no person or business ever sees an increase greater than X percent in any given year. 
In the end, do we really care about affordability or is it all talk? Is it OK to raise people’s taxes 40, 50, 80, 70 percent? Do we say “suck it up and pay” while we figure out ways to pull millions out of our town. I for one say NO and I think there is a workaround but ask Joey Cough – I have always been a dreamer and a thinker and I’m old and tired now.
 

Sean Sweeney lives in Bar Harbor. 

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