Make ferry rates fair

Island residents and town officials have voiced concerns about the Maine Department of Transportation's plan to raise ferry rates by charging different rates based on residency.

The state's plan seems to have been to create a system that charges out-of-state residents more to ride the ferries than in-state. However, there are problems with this. One is that it could affect summer residents who pay property taxes in the island communities. This seems unfair. In addition, the islands, like the rest of the region, depend in warm weather on tourist dollars, and there are concerns that charging them more sends the wrong message.

One of the positive things to come out of this story is that a solution to the problem has actually been proposed by local island high school math students.

They argue the money should be raised by a simple, across-the-board 17-percent increase to make up the $738,000 in revenue the state needs.

It seems hard to argue that this proposal would not be fair and equitable to all, and it is being proposed by the people who would be most-affected by the changes.

Town officials, business leaders and students have publicly disagreed with the state's proposal.

What remains to be seen is whether the state will listen to the people.

According to this week's edition of "The Wind," Vinalhaven's newspaper, DOT held a public hearing recently, following its protocol. A lawyer explained the process and a court reporter dutifully took notes as residents spoke out about the plan. These public hearings are required by law, and we have often wondered when covering them if anyone actually considers what members of the public say at these meetings, or if it is just one item they are checking off on their "to do" list before implementing a new plan.

We would urge the Maine Department of Transportation commissioner to listen to the people and adjust the plan to something island residents can live with.

Tax time = scam time

Thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams — including, as we discovered this week — Waldo County workers. Because we are approaching the height of the tax filing season, we checked out tips from the IRS to help avoid being scammed.

Scammers use the regular mail, telephone, or email to set up individuals, businesses, payroll and tax professionals.

The IRS doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. Recognize the telltale signs of a scam. There are many types of scams, but the following few commonly target taxpayers, according to the IRS:

A sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, has been making the rounds throughout the country. Callers claim to be IRS employees, using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about their targets, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.

Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a gift card or wire transfer. Victims may be threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting. Victims may be told they have a refund due to try to trick them into sharing private information. If the phone isn't answered, the scammers often leave an “urgent” callback request.

Some thieves have used video relay services (VRS) to try to scam deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Taxpayers are urged not trust calls just because they are made through VRS, as interpreters don’t screen calls for validity. For details, see the IRS video: Tax Scams via Video Relay Service.

Those with limited English capabilities are often approached in their native language, threatened with deportation, police arrest and license revocation, among other things. IRS urges all taxpayers caution before paying unexpected tax bills.

Note that the IRS doesn't:

– Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.

– Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

– Demand payment without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

– Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

To report tax-related illegal activities, refer to this IRS chart explaining the types of activity and the appropriate forms or other methods to use. You should also report instances of IRS-related phishing attempts and fraud to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.