We have heard a lot of discussion recently about the governor’s proposed budget and the resulting tax structure changes. One of these changes is a new tax on the property of nonprofit tax-exempt organizations that have real property valued in excess of $500,000.

It’s not only organizations such as hospitals and colleges that fit in this category. Many of Maine’s nonprofit, tax-exempt children’s camps, including Pine Tree Camp in Rome, Camp Sunshine in Casco, Girl Scout Camp Pondicherry in Bridgton and Camp Susan Curtis in Stoneham, also would fall into this new tax category.

These camps own real property and buildings where they conduct their programs. These properties, however, were donated or purchased many years ago. Like all real property, they have increased in value to the point that their current assessed values would subject these organizations to taxation under the proposed budget. If the new tax structure is passed, many camps in Maine, and more importantly, the local children they serve, will suffer devastating consequences.

Summer camps usually are thought of as providing arts and crafts, sailing and other outdoor activities to the children who attend. Camps also provide an invaluable service to their communities, including off-season use of their facilities, maintaining open space and undeveloped shore frontage, employing local people and buying local supplies. They also require limited town services.

For Maine children, camps provide a learning experience that complements their school-based education. Furthermore, a number of camps in Maine provide critical services to children with disabilities, families dealing with cancer and families without the financial resources to provide a camp experience.

Nonprofit, tax-exempt camps such as these rely on funding from donations and grants to provide Maine’s needy children an enriching camp experience at little or no cost. Unfortunately, camps will have to pay the new taxes proposed in the budget either from the charitable gifts they receive or from the meager tuition they charge. Some may be forced to close altogether.

Every dollar that camps have to pay in these new property taxes is one less dollar they can use to provide an enriching summer camp experience for our children. The devastating result is that far fewer children will be able to attend, and/or fewer programs will be offered. In the end, our children would bear the burden of this new tax. How is that fair?

Ask anyone who spent time at a camp in Maine about their experience, and they will tell you it provided them with far more than a short-term summer vacation.

They will tell you Maine’s camp taught them self-confidence and teamwork, an appreciation for the outdoors and an understanding of sportsmanship. They will tell you that the problem-solving skills and social skills they learned at Maine’s camps are an invaluable part of their success as adults. These statements are supported by recent American Camp Association research titled “Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience.”

While Maine camps attract young people from all over the country, at least half of all “camper days” are filled by Maine children.

There have been camps in Maine for more than 100 years, and the more than 200 camps in Maine today are undeniably part of the cultural fabric of our state. If the proposed budget passes as it is currently written, the unintended and tragic consequences will be that far fewer of our state’s children will be granted this opportunity.

We urge Maine residents to call the governor and their legislators and let them know they do not support the budget as now proposed. If we don’t rally behind camps as a central part of our community before this vote, it may be too late.

Linda Courtiss is the owner of Camp Vega in Fayette. Kyle and Emily Courtiss, Camp Vega’s directors, also contributed to this column.


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