The check is in the mail

By Randall Poulton | Jan 16, 2020

Not much beats free money and, for over 300,000 Mainers, the check’s in the mail. Yup, the state of Maine is sending out one-time payments of $100 to everyone who has been approved for the Homestead Exemption. That’s me, and I sure hope it is you, too.

There are really two parts to this story: One, what is the Homestead exemption? And two, how do you get your free money?

Maine’s Homestead Exemption has been around for a long time. The exemption was originally $10,000 but has been increased a couple times and today stands at $20,000. I thought pretty much everyone was signed up. Talk about a “no-brainer” — it is easy and it saves you money! I guess I was wrong. I knew my sister had failed to sign up. But she was struggling with many aspects of her life. Now, I just found out my son did not sign up! Apparently, my family and some of my readers (?) may need a little education, because I cannot believe they are too lazy to sign up for free money!

In 2005, the Legislature created the Homestead Exemption to help lower property taxes for Maine residents. The law requires municipalities to subtract (aka exempt) $20,000 off the valuation of your primary home. For example, if you own a home in Belfast, valued at $100,000, and you are on the approved list for the Homestead exemption, you are only charged real estate tax on $80,000. Since the mil rate in Belfast is about $23 per $1,000 in valuation, instead of paying the full $2,300 tax, you only pay $1,840! The Homestead exemption saves you $460! Every year.

And, it gets better. Effective June 17, 2019, the exemption was increased to $25,000! That means for my example above, the savings goes from $460 to $575 each year! Is there a catch? Yes, of course. This is the government we are dealing with. If you are not already approved, unfortunately, it is too late to get the exemption for 2020. And, to get the savings next year, you must sign up by April 1 of this year. But you only have to sign up once and then you automatically get the exemption every year. To qualify, you need to be a Maine resident and own a home. That’s all. You can find the Homestead exemption form online at: cityofbelfast.org. Click on “Assessor” and then “Applications.” The form is a very simple one-pager.

OK, back to the Free Money. Every two years the state does a budget based on estimated revenues. By law, the budget is supposed to be balanced. Occasionally (but with regularity during the LePage administration), revenues exceed expenses, creating a surplus. What to do with the extra money?

Never inclined to simplicity when a more complicated option is otherwise available, the Legislature created the Property Tax Relief Fund. Under this law, 40% of any budget surplus is deposited in the PTRF. By the end of the LePage years, the PTRF had grown to over $30 million. In 2019, the Democrat-controlled Legislature decided it was time for free money and everyone on the Homestead Exemption list would be a winner.

Now, one could argue this surplus should have been returned from whence it came, i.e., to all taxpayers, but I am foursquare in favor of giving the free money to just Maine resident homeowners like me! After all, those rich flatlanders with the fancy waterfront property they only use two weeks a year would probably consider a check for $100 junk mail!

According to Maine State Treasurer Henry Beck, starting Jan. 6, and over the course of the following 12 weeks, TPRF checks will be sent out in batches. When you get your free money depends on where you live. For folks living in towns starting with “A” like Appleton and “B” like Belfast, the check’s in the mail. In fact, some readers who live in batch one towns may have spent their free money before they even see this column. Others, like me in Winterport, are in batch 12. We will be patiently checking our mailboxes until the end of March. But free money is worth the wait. Thank you, Gov. LePage (with a tip of the hat to the Democrats for paying the postage).

This month’s did you know:

The lack of Global warming is costing us money! Yup, and this is not a hysterical forecast. This is real, and dangerous, and your tax dollars have been wasted. The money is gone. What money?

Well, about 10 years ago, at Glacier National Park’s Saint Mary Visitor Center, the government spent a bunch of your tax dollars on new signage hyping global warming. Big expensive signs. Like the one that said “Goodbye to the Glaciers” above the diorama that demonstrated how all Montana’s massive glaciers would be gone by 2020. Surprise, surprise, surprise! Here we are in 2020 and the glaciers are still alive and well!

So, now your tax dollars are being used to replace the “Goodbye to the Glaciers” signs with new expensive, bright red and white, “Make Glaciers Great Again” signs. (I know: How dare you!)

Randall Poulton is a columnist for The Republican Journal. He lives in Winterport.

 

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