SOUTH PORTLAND (AP) – The South Portland City Council on Monday agreed to let voters to decide whether to exempt the city from a statewide property tax cap if the November tax-cap referendum fails locally.

The City Council voted 5 to 2 to include a question on the Nov. 2 ballot asking voters if they favor changing the city charter to allow only the city, but not the state, to set the local property tax rate.

The move is designed to shield the city from the tax-cap initiative should it pass statewide but fail to garner local support. The tax cap proposal would cap property taxes at $10 per $1,000 of assessed value, based on values in 1996-97.

Twelve of 13 residents who spoke during a public comment period before the vote criticized the proposed charter amendment. They said it subverts state law, ignores taxpayers and protects the status quo.

But supporters said it would allow South Portland residents to determine their own tax rates rather than have people elsewhere determine it for them.

“This is not trying to circumvent the process. This empowers our residents to be part of the process,” said Councilor David Jacobs.

Questions remain about whether a charter amendment would stand up to legal scrutiny. Orlando Delogu, a professor at the University of Maine School of Law, said the Maine Constitution makes clear that state law supersedes a city charter or local ordinance.

“Home rule cannot trump state law,” Delogu said.

AP-ES-07-20-04 1606EDT



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