Tree Growth Tax session sparks ‘pretty good discussion’

Mike Malesky, right, was one of four tax assessors who testified at a Tree Growth Tax listening session at the State House Jan. 3.

In the first session of the 128th Legislature, chairs of the Taxation Committee requested that a review of the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law be conducted and asked an appointed panel to report back Feb. 1. The panel has met several times and on Jan. 3 offered the public an opportunity to offer perspectives at the State House in Augusta. 

“It was actually a pretty good discussion,” said MFPC Executive Director Patrick Strauch. “None of them were interested in making the program go away but they were interested in making sure it was being adhered to by people who were taking part in it. I think a lot of the feedback we got was how to make sure people know what is involved in the program, so a lot of education and outreach.”

Presiding over the listening session was Stephen Shaler, director of the School of Forest Resources at the University of Maine, who chairs the review panel. Other members attending were Tom Abello, The Nature Conservancy; Kate Dufour, Maine Municipal Association Patrick Strauch, Maine Forest Products Council; Tom Doak, Maine Woodland Owners; Rene Noel, Association of Consulting Foresters, and Julie Ann Smith, Maine Farm Bureau. Also present for parts of the meeting were the chairs of the Taxation Committee, Sen. Dana Dow  and Rep. Ryan Tipping. 

About a dozen members of the public attended and six testified, including four tax assessors, Bill Van Tuinen, assessor for towns including Skowhegan, Beaver Cove, Bethel; Darryl L. McKenney, Waldoboro assessor; Kerry Leichtman, Camden-Rockport assessor, and Mike Malesky, assessor for New Portland, Highland Plantation and New Vineyard.
“The assessors emphasized that they were interested in holding on to the authority over who goes into and out of the Tree Growth program,” Strauch said. “They felt that was a taxation issue that needed to be maintained by municipalities. And some of them didn’t know until recently that they could use the Maine Forest Service to help with some of their investigations on suspicious lots. So we got some good insights.” 
Review panel from left, Julie Ann Smith, Maine Farm Bureau; Rene Noel, Association of Consulting Foresters; Steve Shaler, University of Maine (chair); Tom Doak, Maine Woodland Owners, Patrick Strauch, Maine Forest Products Council; Kate Dufour, Maine Municipal Association and Tom Abello, The Nature Conservancy.

Also testifying were landowner Chip Bessey of E.D. Bessey & Son and Clark Granger, Granger Family Farms. 

“Chip talked about his concerns with some of the rates that had gone up and the discrepancies between the megaregions,” Strauch said. “That was a concern of one of the appraisers as well.” 

The panel’s report, Strauch said, is likely to include recommendations on “mechanisms to make sure that foresters are complying with the law. Another issue is the penalties. Is it just too rigorous to get out of the program, for example, if you’ve inherited the land?”