December 4, 2012

Waterville cracks down on personal property tax scofflaws

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- Business owners beware: If you move to another location or go out of business and do not pay your personal property taxes, you will be denied license renewals and new licenses and permits.

That was the message city councilors issued Tuesday night when they voted 6-0 to change the taxation ordinance to protect the city from people who leave the city in the lurch on personal property taxes.

Building and other permits also will be denied those who do not pay taxes.

Personal property includes items that may be moved such as desks, computers and freezers.

The city over the last several years has struggled with business owners leaving town, going out of business or going bankrupt and not paying their personal property taxes, according to City Manager Michael Roy.

When Linda Cote became tax collector seven years ago, she changed that. Cote started going after these tax evaders, collecting upwards of $70,000 in unpaid taxes in the last five years, Roy said late Tuesday.

He thanked Cote at Tuesday's council meeting, saying collection of personal property taxes was largely ignored until Cote came on board.

"It wasn't until Linda really started delving into it seven years ago that we started to get a lot more serious about it," Roy said.

On Tuesday, councilors voted to abate $11,064 in personal property taxes and outstanding interest and lien costs for another couple of dozen businesses that did not pay personal property taxes and the city deems them uncollectible.

Roy said another list of such businesses will be presented to the council in about a month.

"All we can do is send letters, make phone calls -- actually, Linda has made visits to several of these -- we can go to small claims court," Roy said.

Resident Heather Merrow asked Roy if there was any reason the city could not publish names of delinquent taxpayers in the newspaper.

Roy said the city has done that before, but publishing names of businesses that have gone bankrupt or out of business likely would not do any good.

"But in the next round, that may be an option," he said.

Councilor Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6, said publishing names could be effective for collecting taxes from businesses that merely move to other locations.

"So, it's not a bad idea to have them show up in the newspaper," she said.

Roy said after Tuesday's meeting that the city, in its actions, is trying to ensure fairness for those who do pay their taxes.

Amy Calder -- 861-9247
acalder@centralmaine.com

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