Maliseets seek tax break from town

9 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians is formally seeking a tax waiver in the amount of $190,288 from the town under the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.

 The council first learned of the request at a Nov. 9 meeting when Tribal Chief Brenda Commander spoke to the board asking for the waiver. The council opted to hold off any action until it could be formally introduced as an agenda item.

 At Monday night’s council meeting, the item was introduced, but councilors made no comments on the matter. The first reading of the request will be held at the Monday, Dec. 14 council meeting, with a public hearing on the matter set for Monday, Dec. 28.

 Under the Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, program, the Maliseets have been asked to make payments in the past to offset losses in tax revenues from tax-exempt tribal lands. The town has had an agreement with the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians that allows the tribe to request a waiver of some or all of its annual payment to the town, provided the Maliseets have done improvements that somehow benefit the town.

 In year’s past, the tribe purchased land in Houlton, thus removing it from the regular property tax list. All of the land owned by the Maliseets is tax exempt, so it was at that time that the PILOT program was implemented.

 One of the major projects the tribe has done in the past, which was used to offset the PILOT payment included rebuilding Lowery Road. The town granted a waiver of $38,380 in 2011, but in 2013, a request for a waiver of $22,980 was denied. The waiver request was initially $53,961, but then-Town Manager Eugene Conlogue and Commander negotiated the payment to half that amount. Council at that time still rejected the request.

For the 2014 and 2015 budgets, no requests were made by the Maliseets to waive the PILOT. However, none of those payments were ever received by the town.

 For the years 2012 to 2015, the Maliseets owe the town $190,228 for payments in lieu of taxes, according to Houlton Town Manager Butch Asselin. Interest could potentially be assessed to those payments.

Two members of the town council — Wade Hanson and Rosa McNally — are employed by the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. Neither were present during Monday night’s meeting.

In previous years, another former councilor who was employed by the Maliseets – Sue Tortello – excused herself from the PILOT discussions, but was not legally obligated to do so, according to the town’s attorney. Tortello, however, said at that time she was not comfortable voting on the matter since public opinion differed from the town attorney’s stand.

 The Maliseets could pursue legal actions against the town, should they wish to push to have the PILOT waiver granted. A similar occurrence took place in 1999 for PILOT payments from 1992 to 1998 when the Maliseets filed a civil complaint in U.S. District Court and were successful in having the payments eliminated.