RANDOLPH — Selectmen and ice shack owners in town are watching legislation that would put the brakes on local fees imposed on the ice-fishing structures.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Michael Shaw, D-Standish, and was referred to the Committee on Taxation last week.

Town officials have dusted off a municipal ordinance that would assess a $15 fee on every ice fishing shack put up along the town’s Kennebec River frontage.

The 1992 ordinance was repealed in 2004. Selectmen Peter Hanley and Ed Gorham voted in March 2010 to bring it back, but they never told the town’s harbor master, Gregory Lumbert, who is in charge of policing it.

So Hanley and Gorham voted again June 28 to have Lumbert enforce the annual registration fee on ice shacks.

Gorham said last fall they wanted to activate the ordinance “and that (upset Jim) Worthing, who operates a smelt camp. So he and others (asked their state representative) to put the legislation in. It’s an emergency bill amending an existing law to prevent towns from imposing fees on ice shacks.”

The bill, L.D. 1747, “An Act To Prohibit Municipalities From Imposing Fees on Ice Fishing Shacks,” aims to prohibit “a municipality or political subdivision of the state from enacting any ordinance, law or rule imposing a tax or fee on ice fishing shacks on sources of public water supply and on coastal waters. Current law prohibits a municipality or political subdivision of the state from enacting any ordinance, law or rule imposing a tax or fee on ice fishing shacks on other waters in this state,” according to the legislative summary.

Worthing, who operates a commercial smelt camp on the Kennebec River in Randolph, said he has about 85 camps on the ice. If all his camps were assessed a fee, he said, he would be charged $1,275 each year.

“The town of Randolph is anti-business,” Worthing said during a break of moving ice shacks around in his Water Street parking lot. “Anything you try to do, they tax you on it. We bring a lot of business to the town. People come here and spend money on sandwiches and drinks. Over at Randolph Take Out, they know when we are on the ice. We’re just trying to make a living and they’re just taking and taking. It’s pretty discouraging.”

If selectmen succeed in charging a fee for ice shacks, Worthing said, other towns will follow suit.

“If they start it, it’s going to affect everyone, even ice shacks on lakes,” he said.

Gorham said the main motive for charging ice fishermen a fee is to raise revenue for the town. He said the fees could bring in up to $2,000 in additional money each year for the town’s general fund.

“There’s not much leeway for town government to fund itself,” Gorham said. “You’ve got property tax, and there’s not much after that.”

Selectman Peter Hanley has said that the river is tidal, and that no one owns it, but there is a historical precedent because the town once assessed such fees.

According to the ordinance, owners who do not comply will be subject to a fine of up to $100 if a shelter is not registered within 72 hours of notification by the harbor master.

Dan Kilmer, who owns a smelt camp at Webb’s Store on Water Street, said people have fished the river for years without paying any kind of a fee. He said ice fishing is a family affair.

He said families struggling to pay their bills with the rising cost of fuel and groceries — many who have gone for years without a cost-of-living adjustments in their paychecks — would be hurt by the fees.

If the town forces him to pay $15 for each of his 15 ice shacks, Kilmer said he will have to raise the price of renting them out. Right now, a four-person camp costs $45.

Selectmen are “not the only ones raising fees,” Kilmer said. “Everyone is doing it. The town’s no different. Vendors come in and say the prices are going up. They expect us to eat the excesses of the cost of doing business. It’s never-ending. It’s just greed.”

Rep. Stephen Hanley, D-Gardiner, a cousin of Peter Hanley, said his legislative aide researched the legality of such an ordinance, but “it was kind of foggy and no one wanted to take a real stand on it.”

Hanley said he hasn’t seen a lot of support in the Legislature to pass the bill.

“We’re going to have to wait and see how it comes out,” Hanley said. “I don’t expect it to be a very contentious bill. I suspect the committee will deal with it appropriately.”

Shaw said the current state law already prohibits municipalities from taxing ice shacks on lakes, with the exception of public drinking supplies and coastal waters.

Shaw said he sponsored the bill because he didn’t want to see other towns impose fees on ice shacks on other bodies of water. Also, Shaw said he and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife have been trying to promote outdoor activity primarily for health and economic reasons.

“Ice fishing is something just about anyone can afford,” Shaw said. “It’s one of the last things you can do for next to nothing, and I really felt that we should leave the ice shacks alone.”

Shaw disagrees with Hanley and said he has a tremendous amount of support for his bill, including Sen. Seth Goodall.

“There’s a lot of support for my bill, and I think probably we’ll see a pretty healthy showing at the public hearing,” Shaw said.

Eric Conrad, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, said his organization’s legislative policy committee met Thursday and unanimously voted to oppose Shaw’s bill.

“It was purely a home rule decision,” Conrad said. “They felt a community should have the right to take action if doing so to protect important water resources. Under Maine law, the only two places that you can do something like that is tidal waters or the protection of a public drinking water supply. And (the Kennebec River) is tidal waters.”

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

[email protected]

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