Nightmare on June Street
Like a lot of longtime Portland residents, I've been thinking about moving to a place where property taxes are lower.
Don't get me wrong. I love our little dead-end street, with its patch of woods at the back. I love the granite that juts out of our yard. I love watching the eighty-something neighbor sweep the pine needles off her driveway, pushing the broom with one hand and gripping her walker with the other. People in this part of town don't move easily or willingly. But when our real estate property tax bills show up, you can feel our spirits droop.We buy lottery tickets. We put off vacations. We patch-paint our houses instead of calling a professional. Since the last re-valuation bloated our assessed values by about a 100 percent, a few "for sale" signs have sprouted. The rest of us have mixed feelings about that. If the sellers get their inflated prices, we feel property-rich. Until we write out that tax check and become instantly house-poor.
So here's my plan. I have decided to ask the governor to declare our street a Pine Tree Zone. We certainly have the pine trees. Needles all over the place. Less sun than we'd like. But I can put up with a little darkness and mold now and then, if I can get the 100 percent sales tax exemption on building materials. There's a new Lowe's down the street, and I have already racked up a pretty high bill, what with the sump pump and the dehumidifier. But I am holding off on future purchases until I send in my Pine Tree Zone application. According to the state's Web site, I am not the first to latch onto this idea. One hundred properties and thirty thousand acres are already tax sheltered, just in Aroostook County alone. It's time to play catch-up in Cumberland County.
Even in a Pine Tree Zone, you can get a new tax break on business equipment. Here on June Street, that idea is getting entrepreneurial juices flowing. What we need, we all agree, is a reliable snowplow service that doesn't scrape up our driveways and kill our boxwood like the city guy does. We're scouring Uncle Henry's for deals.
Meanwhile, I'm thinking of making a movie. True, to get the "Maine Attraction Film Incentive" I would have to spend $250,000. No sweat. Let's say I give ten June Street residents about $25,000 apiece — in IOU's — to appear in the film. Believe me, they are colorful enough to carry a scene. We hold a bunch of screenings over the next year. My next-door neighbor, who owns a wine bar, brings the chardonnay. I pass around tiny chicken croquettes. I figure on about 2,000 people at about a $125 a head. That's not a lot more than a typical concert ticket in Portland these days. In return, we would pay no state tax on fuel, electricity, or production items. Anything, in this business plan, is a production item. Including that hot tub I've been eyeing for the final scene.
There's one word no one on June Street has yet said out loud: secession.
But it could happen. Turns out, none of us has kids in the public schools. We all have a lot of books, so we could start our own lending library. We don't generate much garbage any more, not with those blue plastic bags going at two bucks a pop. The fire and Medcu station is only two doors down and I figure we could make a private arrangement, especially if we put those guys in our movie. So if push came to shove, we could just go it alone.
But that would be a drastic step. I understand that my taxes bring me valuable services. That Maine needs more jobs, and that business wants incentives. Apparently, living near majestic mountains and the ocean, living in a place with cleanish air and water, a low crime rate, and friendly productive workers, isn't enough to lure corporate America, or keep it here. So far though, all those assets have been enough to keep us living happily, if frugally, on June Street. And, as I say, we aren't moving.
Unless someone makes a pretty good offer.