Public deserves explanation from Poliquin

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Early this month we called on Maine Treasurer Bruce Poliquin to end the accusations and suppositions and release the timber management plan crafted for his waterfront property in Georgetown.

We do so again.

As questions continue to mount about the propriety of having 10 acres of personal property protected by a preservation deed that bans harvesting while also receiving tax breaks for the same parcel held in Maine’s Tree Growth Tax Law program — which requires harvesting — it looks increasingly like Poliquin has something to hide.

Maybe he doesn’t.

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But, the fact is that this high-ranking state official receives the benefit of a significant property tax break, pushing a greater burden onto his fellow property owners to fund the municipal budget of this seaside town. Furthermore, tax breaks are the public’s business.

On Thursday, Georgetown First Selectman Geoff Birdsall said the board would “probably” take steps to make sure landowners enrolled in the tree growth program were complying with the law, but the board was not inclined to target Poliquin specifically without also verifying compliance of all 10 lots in the town enrolled in the tree growth program.

The Maine Forest Service, which signs off on timber management plans, has no authority to ensure property owners comply with the law. Enforcement is up to the town, but whatever steps Georgetown will “probably” take won’t be anytime soon.

So, it’s up to Poliquin to end the finger-pointing.

What’s the big secret? Poliquin benefits from a tax shelter and the public — especially his neighbors — has a legitimate right to know whether the man in charge of Maine’s treasury is complying with tax law.

There’s also the age-old issue of fairness between the proverbial goose and gander.

Poliquin has been relentless in pushing for greater transparency at the Maine State Housing Authority, calling on the quasi-governmental agency to release figures and explanations of all expenditures, great and small.

In a press release Friday, Poliquin made the point that 800 Mainers sleep in homeless shelters each night while thousands more wait for affordable apartments. And, since MSHA is responsible for building low-cost apartments that could house many of these people, and yet spent $26,000 on catering in 2010 and $59,000 on gift cards between 2008 and 2010, Poliquin has openly suggested that MSHA is not a good steward of public funds.

“I’m anxious,” he wrote, “for an explanation at our next MSHA board meeting on Tuesday.”

Pretty hard to take such an expectation for explanation seriously when Poliquin himself refuses to explain the legitimacy of his significant personal property tax break.

Taxpayers deserve explanations from MSHA and from Poliquin.

Tax dollars don’t grow on trees, after all.

? ? ?

There is $2,000 swimming around in Roxbury Pond just waiting to be hooked.

Today is the 33rd annual Larry Mercier Memorial Fishing Derby at Roxbury Pond, and the lucky angler who pulls the marked 16-inch brook trout from the pond will win the derby’s grand prize.

Organizers are expecting a good turnout this year, maybe better than ever, partly because the Sebago Ice Fishing Derby and other derbies have been canceled during this remarkably unseasonable ice-fishing season.

Even though it may not feel much like winter, winter recreation is in full swing.

This weekend is also Free Fishing Days, an annual event that allows anyone (except those whose fishing licenses are suspended or revoked) to fish without a license. All other ice-fishing laws apply as to location, limits and size. It’s a tremendous opportunity to try a new sport.

If fishing isn’t for you, there’s still plenty to do this weekend, including the Winter Fest in Otisfield, a snowshoe hike at Pondicherry Park in Bridgton on Saturday morning, the Maine Snowshoe Race at Hebron Academy on Sunday morning and the World’s Greatest Sleigh Ride from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Lisbon Falls on Sunday.

Winter won’t last forever, so get out there and enjoy it while it lasts.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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