September 10, 2010

Wife of LePage violates tax rules

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

AUGUSTA -- Ann LePage, the wife of the Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage of Waterville, received permanent resident tax exemptions in 2009 on homes in both Maine and Florida, a violation of statutes in each state.

The LePage campaign admitted the violation on Thursday, calling it a paperwork error. A spokesman said Ann LePage had been unaware of the discrepancy and would remedy it. Per Florida law, she could be fined and levied back property taxes if deemed in violation.

To receive the tax exemption in Maine or Florida -- both of which call it the homestead exemption -- property owners must declare that state is their primary residence.

Ann LePage is the sole owner of homes in Waterville and Ormond Beach, Fla., according to records in those states. She received Maine's homestead exemption on the house at 438 Main St. in Waterville in 1998, after buying the property with Paul LePage in 1995.

The property was transferred to Ann LePage alone in 1996. She then purchased the Florida property in 2008 and claimed the Florida homestead exemption on her 2009 property taxes.

In Maine, the exemption deducted about $200 from her property tax bill in 2009; in Florida, the exemption deducted about $1,500 for the same, according to tax assessors in each state.

The tax paid in Waterville was $3,460; in Florida, it was $2,113, according to assessing records.

On Thursday, Paul LePage said the house in Florida was purchased to help his wife care for her ailing mother, who cannot live in cold weather. Ann LePage did not return a call requesting an interview.

"My wife goes and cares for her and she comes back in the spring. We bought the house because we were spending $1,000 a month to rent," he said. "I will tell you, I don't care about residency as much as I care about keeping my mother-in-law alive."

Morgan Gilreath, the property appraiser in Volusia County, Florida, said his state takes violations like this one seriously. The Florida penalty, he said, is loss of the exemption, back taxes plus interest at 15 percent annually for up to 10 years, and 50 percent of that total as a fine.

"It's important because our homestead exemption is very substantial and for every tax dollar that someone gets in an illegitimate circumstance, those taxes are paid by legitimate Florida property owners and residents," he said.

In Florida, Gilreath said Volusia County maintains a two-person homestead investigative unit, which looks into such matters.

To receive the homestead exemption in Florida, property owners must affirm they are a resident, and have their car registered in Florida and possess a Florida driver's license. Paul LePage, on Thursday, said his wife had a Florida driver's license at one time.

Maine records indicate Ann LePage was reissued a Maine driver's license on July 29 of this year. Gilreath said this could be a red flag.

"If you come down here and get (the exemption) and go back there and change (your license), it sure looks like you did that on purpose," he said. "Now, what we do is we look at it and we try to give them every benefit of the doubt."

A spokesman for the LePage campaign, Brent Littlefield, said this issue was irrelevant to LePage's bid for governor. LePage, the mayor of Waterville, is the frontrunner in the five-person race, according to recent polls.

"Paul LePage's name is not on the deed of either property in question; Paul LePage's name is not on the homestead exemption form of either property in question. Ann LePage's name is on the records, she signed a homestead exemption apparently 12 years ago, did not remember she did 12 years ago, now she's been made aware of it," he said.

Littlefield also said Ann LePage would fix it.

"We have tax problems in the state, we have education problems in the state and we're focused on a paperwork error," he said. "(Ann LePage) knows now that there is an error, because she had a 12-year-old document and she has a current document and she's going to correct that error."

Staff writer Scott Monroe contributed to this report.

Rebekah Metzler -- 620-7016

rmetzler@mainetoday.com

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