WINDHAM — The Land for Maine’s Future program embraces conservative values we can all stand behind. In southern Maine, land conservation may be the best way to keep our taxes in check, promote our valuable brand and retain our ability to harvest our natural resources today and in the future.

Wonder why this Republican has been involved with his local land trust for eight years?

While farmland and undeveloped land may not be big property tax revenue generators, they normally require very few town services. The property taxes produced by these types of parcels typically exceed service and infrastructure costs. This cannot be said for developed land in many communities.

New building projects are thought to be tax-positive for communities because of the belief that they will generate more property tax revenue. What’s often the case, though, is that with the new revenue comes a greater need for services and infrastructure than the new proceeds can cover. In turn, these new costs are spread throughout the community, thus raising taxes for all residents.

In my town, Windham, the cost of growth is evidenced by the news that our schools were overcrowded and in need of funding to solve the problem, which eventually led to Raymond wanting to withdraw from our regional school unit.

There was also a wastewater bond that was defeated a couple years back that would have had residential taxpayers foot 63 percent of the costs of a sewer in the rapidly growing commercial district. All of this will eventually put Windham property taxpayers on the hook for millions and millions of dollars.

LMF projects, especially those on privately owned land with conservation easements in place, can be viewed as true property tax relief, as they remove development potential. Communities can use land conservation to manage growth that results in unsustainable property tax burdens.

It’s been suggested that LMF projects remove land from the tax rolls. This isn’t necessarily accurate. In many cases, these funds have kept commercial waterfront properties working or agricultural and timberlands in operation with easements in place – both taxable.

To be good neighbors, many land conservation organizations have chosen to be taxed based on a parcel’s use. A number of these groups have even strategically decided not to pursue tax-preferred status. Moreover, even if a piece of land is removed from the tax rolls, that loss may be far less than the gap between the tax revenue from new development and the increased costs for services and infrastructure that this new development creates.

LMF also encourages private investment in our outdoor heritage. Maine has a long-standing tradition that continues today because we’ve been good stewards of our natural resources.

Hunters and anglers both fund and advocate for wildlife management and habitat conservation. Recreational users have worked to preserve public access to trail systems, scenic vistas and experiences with our natural world.

Business and industry – including farmers, timber harvesters and fishermen – have adopted best management practices to both ensure that their valuable resources will be here tomorrow and preserve their public image. I note this because there are many stakeholder groups and community members involved in conservation efforts and the decision-making process around them.

Finances for land conservation deals typically involve a host of different public and private entities. Towns, through the ballot process, have taken out bonds to preserve land in their communities. Nonprofits have raised both small and large dollar amounts through donors. LMF leverages these dollars as an important part of the overall funding picture.

Kicking one leg out from under the stool creates instability for these projects, and they may fail as a result.

These investments are crucial in maintaining Maine’s ability to support our tourism industry by providing access to the recreational, scenic and sporting opportunities we are known for. By removing the development potential of land, we guarantee the future of the wood products industry and provide affordable opportunities for farmers to have large contiguous tracts of land to cultivate economically.

Mainers recognize the importance of LMF projects and have shown a clear willingness to put skin in the game. Each time these bonds are on the ballot, they win the support of 60 percent of Maine’s voters.

In my town, our LMF projects have acted as property tax relief, preserved our outdoor heritage and supported the agricultural past and future. Please join me in making a conservative case for Land for Maine’s Future.

 


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