letter to the editor

CMBG and taxes

Posted:  Monday, January 8, 2018 - 4:45pm

Dear Editor:

People’s taxes don’t often interest me. Life and democracy are messy, and taxes aren’t the fun part of the mess. But sometimes bad behavior makes someone’s taxes worth examining. And so, as CMBG (again) falsely claims to the Planning Board that its land use designation should be compared with an educational facility, I began to wonder how that compared to their nonprofit tax exemption.

Not very well, as it turns out. On every 990 tax form since 1993, CMBG has told the IRS that their public charity exemption is as an “organization which normally receives a substantial amount of its support from a governmental unit or from the general public.” They have never checked the box for tax-exempt school or educational organization. Likewise, they have always told the state of Maine that the purpose of their public charity listing is “cultural,” not “educational.”

And CMBG is correct when it tells state and federal government that education is not its primary purpose. Why? Because only 3 percent of CMBG visitors take classes, and only 5 percent take tours.

And so the town of Boothbay forgives CMBG its tax burden on the basis of its cultural, non-educational activities.

The appraisal for CMBG’s land and buildings in Boothbay was, prior to this development, roughly $4.5 million. At a 9.2 mil rate, that’s over $40,000 in annual unpaid taxes. Add this $30 million dollar expansion to the mix, and the value of those unpaid taxes will go up accordingly.

Some people will say that’s a fair price to pay for CMBG’s capacity to bring in tourists, and maybe when the Gardens start behaving responsibly again there might be some truth in that. (An ethical nonprofit, though, pays something to the town in lieu of taxes.)

But for now, with CMBG telling tax authorities one thing and telling the Boothbay Planning Board and Board of Appeals something else, and with our drinking water (and other problems) hanging in the balance, it’s worth examining CMBG’s mess.

And maybe someone should ask CMBG whether, as an “educational facility,” they should be paying UBIT (Unrelated Business Income Tax) on all those non-educational Gardens Aglow earnings.

Jason Anthony