YORK – Two Wells Beach innkeepers told their horror story of how a neighbor’s complaint about a minor fire-safety issue triggered $400,000 worth of state-ordered upgrades.

An architect from South Berwick said he must pay his workers who commute from New Hampshire more money to compensate for the taxes they pay to Maine.

And several people said critical things about Maine’s unemployment insurance system, which, in their experiences, rewards slackers.

Those and other frustrations were voiced Friday by business people who came to the latest of Gov. Paul LePage’s Red Tape Audit sessions.

The process began as a campaign promise by the new governor to eliminate unnecessary roadblocks to job creation and to get input from the business community on how to do it.

Chambers of commerce are hosting the meetings around the state. Five more remain; the next one is scheduled Monday morning at the Muddy Rudder in Yarmouth.

The group that braved Friday’s snowstorm to assemble at the Cape Neddick Inn hit on topics expressed in previous sessions: regulations that are unneeded, rules that are too complex.

There also was a recognition by many that some of the problems they identified aren’t rooted in specific laws, but in how rules are being carried out or interpreted by agencies and boards.

Participants had only two minutes each to speak, so they also received one-page forms to put their thoughts in writing. Their observations will be compiled in a database and forwarded to LePage’s office, said Mark Ouellette, director of the state’s Office of Business Development, who represented the administration at the meeting.

The administration is trying to identify themes, Ouellette told the group, such as specific issues involving departments that handle environmental protection, human services or tax collection.

Proposed remedies could find their way into L.D. 1, a bill to be submitted by the administration aimed at streamlining state government. Others could wind up before legislative committees.

More input will come over the next two weeks from public hearings being organized by a special legislative panel — the Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform. The group plans its first session Monday in Presque Isle. It will finish at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland on Feb. 9.

The group on Friday was made up largely of members of York County’s hospitality industry, so tourism issues and competition with New Hampshire were prominent. One general theme is that state agencies can be heavy-handed.

Susan and John Jarvis summarized their frustration with the Fire Marshal’s Office, which inspected their nine-room bed-and-breakfast, Haven by the Sea, after a neighbor complained. They spoke of what they saw as unfair demands and a lack of accountability.

“It has crippled our small business,” Susan Jarvis said of the $400,000 expense.

Dealing with agencies to get project approval frustrates Michael Lassel, the architect in South Berwick.

“You feel like you’re serving them,” he said. “They’re not serving you.”

Small businesses feel like they’re playing defense, said Jake Wolterbeek, owner of Jake’s Seafood Restaurant in Wells.

Failed proposals last year in the State House to require paid sick leave and tie the minimum wage to the consumer price index make Maine seem like a welfare state, Wolterbeek said.

He and others also gave examples of how the state’s unemployment benefits discourage laid-off workers from finding new jobs.

After nearly two hours of complaining, some participants realized that they want more from government, not just less.

Maine’s overburdened court system is costing clients money, a lawyer observed. A small-business hotline can help answer questions, but it’s not well publicized, so many business people aren’t aware it exists. Tourism marketing is essential, even though it comes from a dedicated tax on meals and lodging.

That led Paul McGowan, who coordinates the York Energy Efficiency Committee, to point out that many of the problems raised are tied to bad implementation, lack of funding and bad attitude.

“I’m afraid of the other extreme, that government can’t do anything right,” he said.

Ouellette agreed. That’s why LePage wants specifics on how laws and rules are being carried out, he said.

“All this information is getting out,” Ouellette said. “You are creating a movement.”

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

[email protected]