Lewiston residents’ reactions mixed

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LEWISTON – Gordon Beckwith sat in his backyard Friday night in front of a stone waterfall he built himself. He was taking a break from planting lupines around his home and looking over the only house he’s ever lived in, a gambrel on outer Webster Street.

For the 43-year-old, the situation with the city tax revaluation is a matter of perspective.

“I love it here. This is a great community, with a great work ethic and wonderful people,” Beckwith said. “I think I am taxed fairly. I don’t think I’m overtaxed or undertaxed. I think it’s fair.”

With most of the city in an uproar about soaring tax costs, Beckwith’s was a voice from the minority.

“It’s all very relative. I’m a young man in the prime of my income earning years,” he said. “If I were an older person, I might look at the situation differently. If I fell and broke my back tomorrow, it would suddenly be a bigger issue for me.”

The recent revaluation decreased property taxes for most businesses but increased them for most homeowners, in spite of budget cuts. On Friday, city officials reacted to the storm of protests by agreeing that Maine’s tax system was flawed. One city councilor went so far as to advise residents to toss letters from the city assessor’s office into the trash.

Not everyone was buying it.

“No matter how you look at it, they’re giving the big businesses the big breaks when these poor, older people are struggling to pay for things like medications,” said John Kenny Smotherman, who lives on Thorne Avenue. “These are the people who built this community and now they’re going to spend their waning years sweating about losing their homes.”

Smotherman said he expects his property taxes to go up by about $300. He and his family can manage by making cutbacks where needed. Others, he said, have nothing left to cut. And those are the people he believes are most hurt by the tax plan while businesses continue to get breaks.

“There are old, single ladies out there scratching just to make it,” Smotherman said. “They wore out their shoes working in one spot all their lives, and now they’re the ones getting hurt.”

Others view City Administrator Jim Bennett’s announcement Friday as posturing.

Richard Poulin, whose home on Boston Avenue went up 118 percent in value, wonders why the city changed its position between a Tuesday night meeting and Wednesday, when they announced they will challenge the system.

“I think they are grandstanding,” Poulin said. “They are contradicting themselves.”

Poulin, who grew up in Lewiston but now maintains permanent residence in Los Angeles, also believes that skyrocketing tax rates result when people get complacent.

“We just lay back and we let it happen,” Poulin said. “We deserve what we get.”

For some, how the city handles the revaluation now may affect the future of the city. As far as Smotherman is concerned, city leaders should learn from their own mistakes as well as those mistakes made by other cities and towns around New England.

“We’re not a wealthy community,” Smotherman said. “You can only squeeze out the middle class so long. And then it’s over.”

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