LEWISTON – Big business would be the big winner in post-tax-cap, user-fee-funded Lewiston, according to Jim Bennett.

Lewiston’s three biggest taxpayers, Central Maine Power, Banknorth and Florida Power and Light, would each save between $300,000 and $734,000 if voters approve a 1 percent property tax cap and Lewiston responds by instituting a bevy of user fees.

“You can tax a telephone poll, but it isn’t so easy to put a user fee on it,” Bennett, Lewiston’s city administrator said Tuesday night.

City residents, especially single-family homeowners, would pay the difference, he said.

“That money gets made up somewhere,” Bennett told city councilors and residents, all participants in a city tax-cap panel. That panel is drafting a report on the tax cap and the city’s likely responses to it if voters approve it on Nov. 2.

The panel will present the report in a public hearing at 7:15 p.m. Oct. 15, after the Lewiston City Council meeting.

The group began meeting in September, first drafting a budget based on a strict interpretation of the tax cap. That would mean a $25 million cut in property taxes and severe cuts in city services. Several firetrucks would be retired, fire stations closed, police officers let go and many other city services would be eliminated. Schools would face equally tough cuts.

Next, Bennett and the panel developed a plan to reinstate all but 10 percent of city services and pay for the difference with $15 million in user fees. That model called for an annual fee for fire service, a per-foot fee for road frontage, a pay-per-bag trash collection program, apartment inspection fees and higher fees for recreation and the library.

School athletic and extracurricular programs would cost an average $500 per student, per activity.

On Tuesday, the group reviewed a draft report on its findings so far and discussed how it might affect various taxpayers.

While most homes would see their property taxes cut in half, other fees and taxes would rise. For example, most homeowners can write off their property taxes in their state and federal income tax returns. That write-off would decrease, along with their property taxes, and most would pay $100 to $200 more to the state and federal government.

Bennett’s fee plan would make up the difference. A homeowner that saves $882 in property taxes might pay $700 more in fees and another $170 in income taxes. “What you see is that even if they break even, if they have kids in the schools, that erases any savings,” Bennett said.

A family with two children involved in the school band and sports might pay $1,000 more per child.

“If they have a gifted child, in three sports, they could end up paying an additional $1,500,” he said.

Nonprofits would also pay, under the plan. Groups like Bates College, St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and Central Maine Medical Center do not currently pay property taxes. They could end up paying between $100,000 and $300,000 in fees under Bennett’s plan.

“But that doesn’t make up for the loss of revenues from the big taxpayers,” Bennett said. For Florida Power and Light, the tax cap would reduce their property taxes form $1.58 million to $815,000. The company would pay an additional $32,000 in fees.


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