October 27, 2010

LePage property tax controversy fades to close

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA -- All the questions apparently have been answered.

Several weeks of controversy have swirled around Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage and the residency status of his family since it was reported his wife, Ann, received permanent resident tax breaks for homes she owned in both Maine and Florida in 2009.

Though an initial investigation by Florida tax officials said she was ineligible for the dual homestead exemptions, the Florida exemption then was deemed legal officially on Monday.

The exemption, of about $855, was approved because of a provision in Florida law that allows dual exemptions if one of the properties is the permanent residence of a legal dependent of the owner.

Maine has no such "dependent" provision, however, that allows for a dual homestead tax exemption. Ann LePage paid $227.93 in back taxes on Sept. 17 of this year and asked for the homestead exemption to be removed.

The LePages both previously said the house in Ormond Beach, Fla., purchased in December 2008, was for Ann's mother, who suffers from schleroderma and benefits from being in warmer climates. He promised his dying father-in-law he would take care of his wife, Paul LePage had said.

Ann LePage is now a resident of Maine, according to Dan Demeritt, the LePage campaign spokesman. She was a resident of Florida from 2007 to 2010, according to a letter sent Oct. 14 from William A. Lee III, the LePages' attorney, to Morgan Gilreath, the property appraiser in Volusia County, Fla.

"She is a Maine resident today. She registered (Monday) to vote in Waterville," Demeritt said. "She had to get down there to take care of her mom in the wintertime. The long-term plan of the LePages was to retire to Florida. She moved down there; she got a driver's license and registered to vote."

Ann LePage was reissued a Maine driver's license on July 29, 2010, according to records in the Maine Secretary of State's office.

Two of LePage's children, Lauren and Paul, are residents of Florida, according to Demeritt. Both went to school at Florida State University. LePage had said previously that Lauren LePage paid out-of-state tuition at the school for about 2 1/2 years and in-state tuition for 1 1/2 years. Paul LePage II is currently a senior and has paid in-state tuition.

According to the FSU website, tuition for incoming freshman who are residents of Florida is $15,418; tuition for out-of-state students is $29,862.

Students must prove they have been a Florida resident for 12 moths prior to their initial enrollment to receive in-state tuition, but they can get re-classified by providing additional paperwork after they've already enrolled.

Acceptable paperwork includes a Florida driver's license or proof of a homestead property tax exemption.

Demeritt said Ann LePage did not obtain Florida residency specifically to help reduce her children's tuition.

"She was down there anyway, most of the time, taking care of her mother," he said.

Paul and Ann LePage's adopted son, Devon Raymond, is from Jamaica, goes to school at the University of Louisiana and is not a U.S. citizen, according to Demeritt.

Paul LePage has two grown daughters from his first marriage; both live in Canada. Demeritt said LePage was divorced from his first wife in 1980.

Demeritt said Ann LePage has a sister in Florida who will help take care of their mother while Ann is in Maine, "but they will maintain the house, and she'll still spend a significant time in Florida with her mom, even when she's Maine first lady, assuming we get to that point," he said.

Rebekah Metzler -- 620-7016

rmetzler@mainetoday.com

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