Gilead Select Board Member Jon Howe isn’t on board with Mahoosuc Land Trust’s plan to conserve Tumble Down Dick Mountain, described by the trust as having great potential for future hiking trails, a cliff face that is an area favorite with rock climbers and picturesque waterfalls. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

GILEAD — Gilead Select Board Member Jon Howe said he was offended when Caro Poirier writing on behalf of Mahoosuc Land Trust asked The Town for a $40,000 donation to acquire Tumbledown Dick Mountain, a 978-acre parcel in Gilead.

“I’m not really that smart, I just know when you buy land that you have to pay taxes [not the other way around],” said Howe. The Board did not approve funding the donation to MLT who hopes to purchase the property from The Conservation Fund sometime this year. They are awaiting the completion of an appraisal which will determine the purchase price.

The property off North Road has, “awe-inspiring views that include the Presidential Range”  and links to thousands of acres of already conserved land in the Mahoosuc Range and the White Mountain National Forest, according to MLT’s web site.

Mahoosuc Land Trust Executive Director Kirk Siegel said he met with the Gilead selectboard last spring,  “they were worried about the 978-acre Tumbledown Dick Mountain property going into conservation and losing the tax revenue. I told them that the Conservation Fund bought the property in 2021 from the Chadbourne family and has been paying property taxes every year since then. Tumbledown Dick Mountain was in tree growth taxation when the Chadbournes owned it, it’s in Tree Growth now, and I expect it will be in Tree Growth or Open Space after we buy it, which we hope will be within 12 months. We have not made a final decision,” he said.

Unrealized dollars

Conserving the land potentially means unrealized tax dollars for Gilead if houses or businesses, for instance, could be built there instead.


At Gilead Town Meeting on March 30, the 14% budget increase from last year was a significant bump up in a town of just 752 residents. Former Select Board Chair Freeman Corriveau said the MSAD-44 school budget has tripled in recent years and is the cause of the higher taxes. Howe agrees that the schools take too much, but he has been equally vocal about the conservation trusts eating up part of the town’s 18.88 square miles that would otherwise have tax potential for the struggling town.

Siegel, responded to many of Howe’s concerns in an email, “We are of course sensitive to financial pressures on a small town with a limited tax base, and are committed to helping out. On the general topic of tax exemption, Maine has a long tradition of recognizing conservation as a charitable purpose, Public benefits include free access to land as other private lands are increasingly posted and public access is being closed down.

“Tax exemption can facilitate community benefits, not only to conservation groups, but to churches, social welfare organizations, museums, and schools. For MLT, that means creating and maintaining trails and parking lots, creating free programs for kids and families like the annual Monarch Festival [at Valentine Farm in Bethel], and taking care of trails and other public facilities. Many local businesses also benefit from local nonprofits: builders, restaurants, retailers, sports outfitters, and accommodation providers,” said Siegel. MLT including Siegel, has five employees.

Gilead has a mil rate of 16.25, and very few businesses to help lower the tax base. The Town has struggled to keep up with repairs on their few municipal buildings. Both the 1883 Town Hall and nearby Fire/Highway department building need roof repair with high price tags.

The U.S. Military’s training site Bog Brook and White Mountain National Forest have a footprint in Gilead offering little money in return, according to Town Clerk Patsy Cox.



There is no State of Maine law that requires a tax-exempt institution to pay in lieu of taxes, so land trusts’ monetary return to towns’ varies. The non-profit Maine Municipal Association (MMA) explains, “Payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTS) are voluntary, often negotiated contributions made by tax-exempt institutions toward the cost of certain common municipal services, such as fire and police protection and public road maintenance.

“Municipalities are free to ask tax-exempt institutions to make a PILOT, and these institutions are likewise free to agree or to refuse the request … there is no law on PILOTS because they are entirely voluntary payments. Nevertheless, there have been some successes in PILOT programs, though the overall history has been mixed.”

Siegel says many people don’t realize that of the 25,000 acres of land in the region that they have conserved, 21,000 acres remain in private ownership and MLT holds a conservation easement on the land and the owners continue to pay the property taxes as they always have.

“Mahoosuc Land Trust (MLT) was a tiny, all-volunteer organization when it acquired its first properties in the early 1990’s, and we applied for property tax exemption out of financial necessity and because it was standard practice. Applying for tax exemption in all towns where we owned land was standard policy at MLT until fairly recently.

After Ginny McCoy’s family deeded the McCoy-Chapman forest to MLT in 2018 and we received tax exemption, we wanted to help out the Town of Gilead’s fairly small tax base.  In both 2019 and 2020 we made $750 donations to the town’s cemetery fund. In 2021 we paid $3,000 for tree removal around the town’s Chapman Cemetery adjacent to McCoy property.

In 2023 we made a $1225 voluntary payment to Gilead, which was an estimate of what our tax assessment for our Gilead land would be if we weren’t tax-exempt, based on Tree Growth taxation of the property. We plan to make a similar voluntary payment this month,” said Siegel.


(The 2023 tax values for Tree Growth taxation in Oxford County established by the State of Maine were $236 per acre for softwood, $276 per acre for mixed wood, and $288 per acre for hardwood).


Howe says the better access MLT promises is not something he and other locals need. They have had access for years, he says. He believes the McCoy’s who were his neighbors would not approve of the restrictions at MLT’s McCoy-Chapman property on North Road.  Of that property’s 493 conserved acres, 153 acres are in Gilead. No hunting is allowed, snowmobiles are restricted to one area, dogs must be leashed or on voice command and no camping or campfires are allowed.

Of the Tumbledown Dick property still being negotiated, Siegel says, “I expect the existing snowmobile trail on the TD property currently maintained by the Wild River Riders to continue. This has always been our practice throughout the region. The club has also asked about rerouting the trail around the “lagoon” where there has been thin ice and open water in recent years, and we will definitely work with the club on that.

“TD will be owned by MLT, and under a conservation easement held by the State of Maine which will require public access for traditional outdoor recreation such as hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, nature observation. It will guarantee that the existing snowmobile trail remains open for public use as well.”



Howe said he believes that land trusts will eventually sell their properties, never having paid back taxes, to the town’s in which they reside.

Siegel responded, “It would be hard if not impossible for MLT to purchase and resell a property like TD. We are not in the business of buying and selling land. Our donors and members have an expectation that the property will be held long-term for public use and benefit, and if there ever were a transfer it would likely only be to another non-profit conservation organization.”

Howe’s ultimate fear is that his Town will run out of money and get taken over by the State and become a township.

While Howe’s is a singular voice in Gilead, in neighboring Bethel, Ron Savage, a current Bethel select board candidate, has voiced similar sentiments. At a June 29, 2023 Bethel Assessors meeting he said, “we definitely have an issue with too much land being taking off of taxes.

“You’ve got a road with houses on one side, land trust on the other side, taxpayers are paying for that road … if you ever saw a map of this town [Bethel] how much is already conserved, you’d be shocked … they are putting a big [tax] burden on this town. Forever is a long time.”

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