October 26, 2010

Florida official: Ann LePage's tax break was legal after all

The Maine candidate's wife has a valid homestead exemption under a legal exception, an appraiser says.

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA — The homestead tax exemption claimed by Ann LePage for a property in Florida has been deemed legal, according to a letter released Monday by the property tax appraiser in Florida's Volusia County.

Ann LePage is the wife of Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage, the mayor of Waterville.

"Everything is on the up and up," property tax appraiser Morgan Gilreath said in an interview. "The wheels grind slowly, but they grind, and I believe that the right thing has been served throughout this whole process. It was certainly an application that deserved looking into and we did that and it's passed muster."

In a statement released by his campaign, Paul LePage said, "Tax officials in Florida have verified what we have said all along. They have closed their investigation. The homestead exemption on the Florida property that Ann bought to care for her mother during the winter remains in effect."

A preliminary investigation by Gilreath had determined that Ann LePage was improperly granted the property tax break in Florida in 2009 because she was already getting a similar exemption in Maine. Both states typically grant the exemption only for property that is claimed as the owner's primary residence.

But, as reported previously by MaineToday Media, Florida law makes an exception for homeowners who get the credit in other states if the Florida property is "the permanent residence of another legally or naturally dependent upon the owner."

Gilreath initially said in a letter to Ann LePage, sent in September, that there was no claim of such a situation on her Florida homestead application. But further investigation by Gilreath proved otherwise.

"The truth is, she did buy the home because of her mother. Our determination is, based on that paragraph – that they bought that house for her mother, who is legally and naturally dependent on them – that that's a valid homestead exemption," he said.

"The medical records clearly document back to 1997 her mother's condition and her continued condition and deterioration. Paul and Ann LePage clearly showed her mother as a dependent for the years 2008 and 2009 on their IRS tax returns. Her application is approved under that paragraph," Gilreath said.

When the issue of dual homestead exemptions was first brought up to Paul LePage, he cited his family's role in caring for Ann LePage's mother as the reason for the house in Florida.

"It's all about my mother-in-law's health; my wife goes and cares for her and she comes back in the spring," Paul LePage said at the time.

Ann LePage, whose name is on the property deeds for homes in Waterville and Ormond Beach, Fla., repeatedly said she bought the house in Florida for her mother, Gilreath said.

"I did say that was not mentioned in the application in my (initial) letter to them," he said, "but (Ann LePage) had already raised the question of buying the house in order to take care of her mother, and that, in fact, is what that exclusion was written into law to cover."

Gilreath said he has no regrets about the steps his office took, which included notifying Ann LePage in September that she had 30 days to repay about $1,400 in back taxes and penalties.

"We didn't do anything wrong," he said. "It certainly appeared on first blush that it might not be a valid application. If I was predisposed to do anything when the investigation started out, I didn't see any way in the world that this could be a valid application, but I hadn't dealt with this circumstance before."

Paul LePage said the Maine homestead exemption was granted in error, but the issue has been addressed properly.

"In Waterville, we had a simple paperwork error resulting from a 12-year-old filing that had been forgotten," he said in the statement. "In September that paperwork was corrected, we paid the $227.93 in taxes owed to the city and we have asked city officials to remove the homestead exemption from our Waterville home."

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: rmetzler@mainetoday.com

 

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