Tree growth reversal, if sought, could mean large penalty

Posted:  Wednesday, December 6, 2017 - 7:45am

Westport Island  selectmen signed a letter Monday to McKinne and Susan Stires concerning their October request for an estimate on what the penalty would be if they decided to remove property from the state’s tree growth tax program. In  an estimate from town assessor Eugene Huskins, the change could cost the Stires as much as $171,000.

Selectman George Richardson Jr. later said, “The Stires requested an estimate. If they intend to proceed further, they have been asked to contact the Board of Assessors.”

The 20 acres, located at map 3, lot 39 on Post Office Road, were placed in the program in 1978. To qualify, Maine property owners must have at least 10 acres of land used to grow trees for commercial forest products. The state’s description includes “logs, pulpwood, veneer, bolt wood, wood chips, stud wood, poles, pilings, biomass, fuel wood, Christmas trees, maple syrup, nursery products used for ornamental purposes, wreaths, bough material or cones, or other seed products.”

To enroll and continue in the program, property owners must submit a forest management and harvest plan and update it every 10 years. A sworn statement by a licensed professional forester attesting that the owners are complying with the law must be included. Enrolling reduces property taxes.

When property owners wish to withdraw, a penalty is assessed. According to the Tree Growth Tax Law (36 M.R.S. §§ 571 - 584-A) the penalty is calculated over a period of years as a portion of the difference between the property’s “just value” and the valuation on the date just prior to withdrawal.

The selectmen’s letter to the Stires indicated Huskins had consulted with the Maine Forestry Service before determining the estimated penalty.

Also Monday, selectmen thanked Mary Ellen Barnes, Lincoln County’s economic and community development director, for giving the town a map case which is now in the town office.

The selectmen cancelled their Dec. 25 and Dec. 31 meetings due to the holidays.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story erroneously described the Stires’ request.