Governor LePage at work in the Governor’s office. Photo courtesy Paul LePage, Maine’s Governor Facebook page.
AUGUSTA – In his weekly address, Governor Paul LePage released data he says explains why Maine’s local property tax rates have risen dramatically over recent decades.
Citing a new registry created by his administration and designed to track property that has been removed from property tax rolls, LePage says almost 400,000 acres of land worth nearly $350 million have been put in land trusts since 1996.
The result of this massive increase in land trusts is that the land is no longer taxable for municipalities, leaving residents in those communities to make up the difference.
The lack of taxable property due to land trusts and non-profits has long been pointed to by some elected officials as a driver of property tax rates, but this data is perhaps the most comprehensive look at the issue to date.
LePage says when looking at land placed in trusts combined with controlled by local, state and the federal government and non-profits such as colleges and hospitals, about 20% of Maine’s property is simply not subject to local property taxes. This means the amount of land in Maine that is not subject to local property taxes is roughly the size of the state of New Jersey.
The end result, LePage says, is homeowners and land owners in these local communities along with organizations and businesses that can’t shelter their holdings from property taxes, are forced to make up the difference for the 20% of properties that get special treatment.
Among the data released by Governor LePage were:
Maine towns and cities hold land and buildings valued at nearly $5.5 billion statewide.
Maine hospitals and large wealthy non-profits largely escape paying property taxes on their real estate holdings, valued at more than $5.1 billion statewide.
2.2 million acres of land have been set aside for conservation by federal and state governments and land trusts.
Combining the total of land set aside for conservation and awarded easements, almost 20% of Maine’s land is not subject to property tax.
The total of land removed from property tax rolls or prohibited from development is $1.8 billion.
Governor LePage says that while local school budgets are often blamed for rising property taxes, the removal of huge amounts of revenue through land trusts and other methods shares the blame.
He says it is time for wealthy non-profits and land trusts to start paying their “fair share” of the property tax burden.
While some non-profits are known to make payments in lieu of property taxes, a large number pay nothing, but still use the local taxpayer funded services.
LePage says the time has come to stop making Maine’s property taxpayers subsidize wealthy non-profits and land trusts.