In 1985, this newspaper trumpeted a story about loose pigs in Mount Vernon. I was a selectman at the time and responded with the following letter to the editor:
“Yes indeed, we’ve gone hog wild out here in Mount Vernon,” the letter read. “It is always gratifying to know our daily newspaper is taking a real interest in local affairs out this way, and we’re glad you appreciated the serious nature of our problem, placing it on the front page of your Jan. 18 edition.
“The headline, “Wild Hogs Cause Stink,” was somewhat incorrect, however, because pigs do not stink. They’re very neat and clean actually. But you city slickers wouldn’t be expected to know that.
“We do have other equally serious problems which you may be interested in covering now that you’ve discovered our potential for splashy news stories. Property taxes are threatening to get out of hand, for instance, and we have at least one unusual approach to solving this pesky problem.
“Taking note that the Fish and Wildlife Department made a whopping $600,000 on this year’s state duck stamp, we’re considering issuing a town pig stamp, and sponsoring a limited one-week hunt at the end of February. We’ll be real tired of those loose pigs by then, and they might’s well help some needy families get through the rest of a tough winter.
“We’d be interested to know what you city folks think of this idea. Would you be interested in hunting pigs? Or would you buy the pig stamp just to add to your stamp collections? What’s the going rate for these things?
“To keep the interest up, we’ve arranged another story for you next week. We’ve asked Ray Hall to loose some cows, and they’ll be stampeding through the village at 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Please station your reporter and photographer in the middle of the intersection in front of the country store. You’ll get a real fine close-up photo for Thursday’s front page.
“Our rescue squad will be on hand to administer assistance should your people get too much of a close-up. Looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday.”
– George A. Smith, Selectman, Mount Vernon
Loose pigs and cows may be the only way we’re going to get property tax relief. Despite our vote years ago to require that the state fund 55 percent of the cost of public education, this year legislators and the governor — once again — fell far short of that. They don’t even try anymore to respond to our demand. This is not surprising, given that the governor has tossed many insults in the direction of local government, and legislators keep getting re-elected despite their failure to support us.
It’s astonishing that a man who served as mayor of Waterville has such disdain for the most efficient and effective level of government in our state. Maine’s cities and towns are being punished, pushed to the edge, abandoned and disrespected, along with local property taxpayers.
In 2013, 21 percent of total tax revenue came from the sales tax, 34 percent from the income tax, and a whopping 45 percent from the property tax. Our tax system is way out of balance and gets worse every year. And now, the governor wants to repeal the income tax!
He even tried to wipe out the homestead property tax exemption for those below the age of 65 years. About 200,000 of us would have lost the exemption. This modest program subtracts $10,000 from the assessed value of the primary home of all Mainers. To give you a comparison, Florida, where the governor and his wife own a home, provides a $50,000 homestead exemption.
The governor also tried to eliminate the circuit breaker property tax and rent relief program for everyone under the age of 65. He even tried to steal motor vehicle excise taxes from the towns. And he just about eliminated MaineCare funding for schools. He also tried to take nearly $3 billion of taxable industrial personal property enrolled in the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement, or BETR, program and make it tax exempt.
When the bucks stop in Augusta, Maine’s rural communities struggle to survive. If you’ve been reading the town meeting reports in this newspaper, you know how much this is hurting. Towns are even exploring the option of allowing low-income residents 70 and older to defer paying property taxes until their homes are sold or they die. Yes, you can’t escape taxes, even when you die!
Whitefield residents rejected that option, apparently fearful that it would raise taxes on the rest of the community. And it would.
Perhaps we can all work with local farmers, loose some pigs, and let the bullets fly.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or george [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmith maine.com.