Mayor endorses local option sales tax; councilors skeptical

By Stephanie Grinnell | Apr 18, 2019
Source: Belfast Mayor Samantha Paradis

Belfast — Councilors offered mixed reactions to a proposal for local option sales tax that is currently making its way through the state Legislature.

Mayor Samantha Paradis said the state’s Mayors’ Coalition supports the legislation, as does she. There are many municipalities with property tax mill rates higher than $20, she noted, including Belfast. Having the option to charge a local sales tax could provide some property tax relief by shifting more costs to city visitors, she said. The bill only would allow local sales tax on restaurant meals and lodging.

Distribution of the tax would be 85 percent to the municipality in which it is collected, with the remaining 15 percent allotted to other municipalities to spend on fighting the opioid crisis, Paradis explained.

“The net amount of funds must be used for preventing and treating opioid disorder,” she said.

Some councilors said they supported the idea of a local sales tax option, but were skeptical it would be approved.

“I think it would be a great thing for towns that provide the services,” Councilor Mike Hurley said, adding that he likes the requirement for a citizen referendum included in the legislation.

Councilor Neal Harkness noted the tax will apply to everyone, “The fact you live in Belfast doesn’t mean you won’t pay the tax when you go to Darby’s.”

Questions about the language regarding prepared foods were raised by Councilor Eric Sanders and echoed by Councilor Mary Mortier. Sanders said the language appears to apply only to restaurants, not prepared foods, such as slices of pizza to go.

“I do support the idea of an option,” he said. “ … This, on paper, is a sound idea.”

Mortier, too, said she liked the idea of an option to charge local sales tax. “I think the most important part is voters get to decide,” she said.

Weighing in against the proposal was Councilor Paul Dean.

“Right out of the box, I’m actually against this,” he said, adding that he does not support more taxes. But Dean admitted a local sales tax could be beneficial to the city. He said he liked the requirement for voters to have a say.

“If we can come up with something the people support, let’s hop on and ride,” he said.

Harkness also asked if the rules would apply to currently unregulated Airbnbs in the city.

Paradis said she did not have answers to the council’s questions about prepared foods or Airbnbs, but that she would speak with the bill's sponsor.

The Taxation Committee has made ought-not-to-pass recommendations on proposals for local option sales tax — LD 65, sponsored by Rep. Pinny Bebee-Center, D-Rockland, and LD 1110, sponsored by Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach.

However, Paradis said the local option sales tax bill remains “alive and well," and could be taken up by the full Legislature in May.

Comments (5)
Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Apr 22, 2019 22:58

Property taxes won't go down is right.  Her "shifting taxes to city visitors" could !   Could!!!!!!  Could!!!!!! Could!!!!  That is the most important word in this article.

The Mayor "could" resign too but I doubt that will happen!

Posted by: duke simoneau | Apr 22, 2019 17:17

Mr Wall - she told you what your taxes will go down. NOT ONE RED CENT. In the spirit of higher taxes, she wants every cent earmarked for one of HER priorities when the purpose of local sales taxes is to reduce property taxes.

Posted by: Seth Thayer | Apr 19, 2019 05:47

She endorses an idea, but doesn't know which businesses it covers....Perhaps it would be good to get all the information on a proposed tax increase before one endorses said idea.

Posted by: Seth Thayer | Apr 19, 2019 05:23

This from a person with little to no experience making policy decisions and who has absolutely nothing invested in her community.  She is a meeting facilitator, not a policy wonk.  As a small business owner who rents space to restaurants and has a fairly good short-term rental business, I am tired of Augusta putting the burden onto us to raise money while seeing no improvement in services.  We already have to charge 9% lodging tax, what percentage more does the "mayor" suggest we try and charge our already overburdened guests?

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Apr 18, 2019 21:41

Just say it Mayor....higher taxes!!!  More taxes!!!!   Let's lay off a few servers and a couple of cooks to keep labor costs down.from declining winter sales.

May be a tough sell on laying off a couple of employees, however it probably wil be as hard to sell how much your property taxes will honestly be reduced.


Mayor Paradis, please include the EXACT percentage our property taxes will go down with the legislation against what families budget to go out to eat and increase their dinner at McDonalds.  I bet EVERY landlord renting will be thrilled his/her rental property taxes will go down while the renters then start paying higher local option taxes.

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