The Damariscotta Board of Selectmen will not attempt to introduce its own bill that would give municipalities the option to impose a local sales tax, but has agreed to support similar efforts.
Attorney Amanda Meader had drafted legislation for Damariscotta at the request of town staff. The city of Portland and the Maine Municipal Association have also drafted bills, according to Damariscotta Town Manager Matt Lutkus.
“What I would ask is that, if the board wants to support a local-option sales tax bill, we get on board with some of these larger communities that have much more in the way of resources to lobby legislators, (rather) than trying to have our own bill,” Lutkus said during the selectmen’s Wednesday, Dec. 5 meeting.
Damariscotta’s draft bill would have required a countywide vote to allow such a tax before a town could impose one. The town would keep some of the money and a portion would go to the county to offset the county tax.
Chair Robin Mayer said that if the town does adopt a local sales tax, the funds should stay with the town.
“We’re a service center town and people from surrounding communities use our services and don’t pay for them,” Mayer said. “If we collect a local sales tax, it’s to offset the services that people that don’t pay taxes here are getting from here.”
“If we collect a sales tax and then give it back to those towns, we’re losing the very thing that we’re trying to get,” she said.
Selectman Mark Hagar said Damariscotta is “not trying to be different, to have something greater than someone else.”
“We just want to be treated like every other Lincoln County town, to be similar, to get the mil rate down so that people can afford to pay their taxes here,” Hagar said.
Selectman Louis Abbotoni said much of the tax revenue would come from tourism.
One business owner spoke against a local sales tax.
“We just had a big push for shop local here in town,” said Pennington Way IV, who owns Sea Smoke Shop and Wicked Scoops with his wife. He said a sales tax would make people more likely to shop online.
“As a store owner, that’s terrifying,” he said. “Amazon just set up a national headquarters in New York targeting New England. And we’re talking about taxing more.”
Selectman Amy Leshure said Damariscotta offers “a lot of unique shopping experiences … that don’t have a competition with Amazon.”
Mayer suggested that Damariscotta wait and see what happens with other towns’ bills, rather than try to introduce its own.
She suggested that Damariscotta express support for legislation that would give towns the option to impose a tax.
“In the end, I think all of the legislation leaves it up to the municipalities if they want to participate,” Mayer said.
The rest of the selectmen agreed, although there was no formal vote on the matter.
Even if such a bill passes, Mayer said it would not mean the town would “all of a sudden institute a sales tax.”
Lutkus said that the town is going to “join with other municipalities who are pressing for a local option sales tax bill, but the board has not decided, and is not considering at this point, asking voters to approve that, if this option is available.”
The passage of such a bill would give the town “the authority to ask voters” if they want a local sales tax, he said.
The town is conducting an informal survey on the topic. Those who wish to share their views can email Lutkus at email@example.com.
Lutkus presented suggestions for the zoning and licensing of marijuana businesses as a starting point for a community conversation.
He also presented the suggestions to the Damariscotta Planning Board on Dec. 3. (See “Damariscotta proposes to bar marijuana businesses from downtown” from the Dec. 6 edition.)
Lutkus has recommended that the town prohibit new marijuana businesses from opening downtown, but allow certain numbers of each type of business to open in the C2 commercial district and the rural district.
The types of businesses include manufacturing facilities, stores, and testing facilities for recreational marijuana, and caregiver stores, dispensaries, manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities for medical marijuana, as well as cultivation for either purpose.
The new regulations would not affect existing businesses.
Damariscotta voters decided to “opt in” and allow medical and recreational or “adult use” marijuana businesses to open in the town Nov. 6.
The town will hold a community conversation on the topic at the town office at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 2.
After community conversations, the town will hold public hearings in February, then residents will vote on the ordinances at a special town meeting in March.
Chair Robin Mayer asked those in attendance to observe a moment of silence for former President George H.W. Bush, who died Nov. 30.
Mayer told a story about meeting Bush at the White House when she was in her 20s and he was the vice president.
“He treated me like I was the most important person that he had ever met,” she said.
A meeting to review plans for improvements to the town’s waterfront will take place at Great Salt Bay Community School at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 17.
The selectmen scheduled the 2019 annual town meeting for 6 p.m., Wednesday, June 12 at GSB.
The selectmen appointed Abbotoni to the town’s public works committee.
The next selectmen’s meeting will take place at the town office at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 19.