The Limington Free Press
The People of Limington's On-Line Newspaper for News and Opinion
March 30, 2000     Volume 1 Number 4     Index

SAD 6 Continues to Wrestle with Bomb Threats

Also later in this paper:
Is the Personal Property Tax Anti-Business?
Editorial: SAD 6 to Escalate War on Bomb Threats

In Last Weeks Edition:
Ink Is Still Drying in Limington

Jump to April 16th edition of the Limington Free Press

SAD 6 Holds Forum on Bomb Threats

by Dick Jarrett

    Reacting to the bomb threat crisis that continues to disrupt the school system, the SAD 6 School Board held a second forum to discuss the issue at the Middle School Wednesday night.  Unlike the first forum that was swamped by overflow crowds, representatives from the school and the local media may have outnumbered the parents in attendance last night.  All four local TV stations sent crews to gather segments but were nowhere to be seen after the first half-hour.

    One parent, Pamela Hopkins, complained that students who furnish information feel that they are treated like criminals themselves.  Another parent said that students do not come forward for fear of being condemned by their peers as being a "rat".  Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion defended the sensitivity of his officers and proposed that the problem was with the perception by the students due to the parents who have conditioned their children to fear the police from an early age.

    A former student and now military expert in terrorism, Jay Libby, stated that the "Gestapo style lock downs are not good for the school or for the students".  He asked the board "Which are you trying to protect: the students or the reputation of SAD 6?"

    Some parents spoke in favor of the Board's performance.  The Board explained that there have been 16 incidents at the high school and 11 at the middle school this year.  The threats started with messages scrawled on the bathroom walls.  The credibility of the initial threats was mocked by one board member who said that the perpetrator could not even spell the word "bomb" correctly.  In response, the administration closed some of the bathrooms and now requires escorts to the remaining facilities.  Once the bathrooms were closed, the threats changed to notes dropped in the halls between classes or placed in the attendance boxes.  There have been no phoned in threats and no actual explosive devices have been found.  Two detectives have been assigned full time to track down the culprits.

    The School Board stressed that there exists no conspiracy; these are 27 individual acts by individual students.  However, usually the threats are done with the knowledge of the perpetrator's friends.

    Cumberland County Assisant District Attorney Christine Thibeault blamed the Courts for the problem.  She said that for two of the students who were caught, the Bridgton court sentenced them to a total 14 days in jail.  The Portland Court gave sentences of two days in jail.  However in all cases, their felony convictions, even as juveniles, will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

    To address the problem, the administration has trained teachers and custodians on what to look for when performing a bomb sweep.  In addition, teachers have been trained to recognize the profile of likely perpetrators.  Future actions which may be taken are eliminating cell phone usage by students, increasing the security patrols in the evening, purchasing surveillance cameras to monitor students, and the purchasing of accordion style barriers to enable sections of the facility to be blocked off during the evening.

    Technically, because each threat does not disrupt classes for the full day, the school system will still be able to claim the minimum 175 days of classes per year as required by state law.  Make up days are not being planned.  In practice however, each threat is so disruptive that all of the students are being shortchanged of their education.

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SAD 6 Website

SAD 6 to Escalate War on Bomb Threats

Editorial by the Limington Free Press

    At a time when trust between students and school administrators should be nurtured and welcomed by all parties involved, the SAD 6 school board and superintendent's office is about to raise the bar to a new level.  Citing the continued uncontrollable bomb threat menace and with no new ideas to conquer the problems of why these threats are happening or how to preempt them, the SAD 6 brass is now in the planning stages of using video surveillance cameras inside the school and adding police, day and night, to protect the students from this growing problem.  Another proposal for taking away the students' privilege to carry cell phones to school is also on the table.

    Because the threats were first found written on the walls of the restrooms, the administration's initial reactions were to close some of the bathrooms and require escorts to the ones left open.  When you have an air bubble under a sheet of wallpaper and you try to push it down, the bubble just pops up someplace else.  Closing bathrooms to stop bomb threats is like trying to eliminate that air bubble.  The problem just pops up someplace else, in this case as notes dropped in the halls.  In fact, closing the bathrooms may have exacerbated the problem because it broadcasted the message to the students that none of the students can be trusted.

    While the cell phone privilege seems like a small matter to school administrators, it is the only real way for the students to communicate to their family members on the outside during these continued episodes at the school.  Most students use these phones to inform their parents after a threat has been announced so that they can arrange a ride home in an effort to salvage at least a portion of their wasted school day.  The feeling of the school administrators was that electromagnetic radiation emitted from these cell phones could easily set off an explosive device if one was ever to be found at the school.  However, the quick response team of fire, rescue and law enforcement, are usually already at the school before the students are even told there is a bomb threat, and they rely heavily on radio communication.  So if a radio transmission sets off an explosive device, the student's cell phone transmission hazard is moot.

    The intimidation factor of video surveillance cameras in school will be real.  It will let the student body know quickly and forcefully that the school administration is watching the student's every move.  The proposal will be just as ineffectual in stopping bomb threats as was the closing of the bathrooms.  The perpetrators will know where the cameras are and will avoid those areas when they surreptitiously drop a note in the halls.  However, the sword that the superintendent's office is about to wield is a double-bladed one.  As it cuts through the anonymity of possible suspects in the bomb threat dilemma, the wounds it may inflict on the question of trust may have long lasting scars.

    Many students look to school not just as a venue to receive an education, but as a place to experience the true meaning of building friendships and life-long relationships on their own - A place where children grow into young adults capable of making real life decisions within their own peer group - A place where learning the important role of trusting others outside your immediate family blossoms.  The effect of the superintendent's office peeking into the student body's lives because of the failure of everyone involved to control the year long rash of bomb threats may disrupt the delicate balance of morale and camaraderie within the school.

    Student profiling by teachers, intimidation by video surveillance cameras, and increased policing to protect the student body seem to be the spiraling direction of the superintendent's office.  Right or wrong, SAD 6 is heading down a path of no return, a path that questions our values as Americans.  Are we ready to condone and instill upon our children the belief that the only way they can be protected is by big brother looking over their shoulder through the viewfinder of a camera?  Are we as Americans ready to acknowledge that it is time to let our children become acclimated into a society where the future is nothing more than a legal record captured on video tape where their lives can be rerun like an old movie.  The problem does not lie with the thousands of good law abiding young Americans who attend SAD 6 and they definitely should not be taking the heat for it.

    Who are these students who are making the threats?  What are the motivations of these "fools" as the school board calls them?  Every person has a need to feel that his or her life and actions are worthwhile.  Perhaps some of these individuals get a thrill when they secretly know that they are the source of all of this activity.  Perhaps some are crying out for help and subconsciously wish to be caught.  Or maybe some are so bored that the only excitement in school is this cat and mouse game on how to outwit the school administration.  Whatever is their individual reason, something must be very wrong if twenty-seven kids independently decided to commit this same crime.  They all know by now that these are serious crimes and if caught their felony conviction will follow them for the rest of their lives.  But self-destructive behavior for teens is nothing new.  How many teens try smoking?  How many try drinking?  How many try drugs?  How many speed in automobiles?  All know that these actions can have serious consequences but many think that the consequences will not happen to them.

    It is said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  The problem is what kind of medicine do you use for an ailment with which you have no experience?  The answer to this question, and to the bomb threat dilemma could lie within a very few students who have been caught, convicted and at one time felt that doing this somehow would affect their life in a positive way.  Maybe it's time for the SAD 6 school administration to take another approach, by bringing these students back to school to work with them and the student body in an open and friendly forum - a forum which is free from the intimidation of law enforcement's answer of incarceration.  For seven long months the superintendent's office has had every government agency at their disposal and every possible chance to champion this problem.  Isn't it time for the superintendent to put down the big stick and talk as equals with all of the students?  After all, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

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Is the Personal Property Tax Anti-Business?

by Dick Jarrett

Is the Personal Property Tax Hurting Business in Limington?

    Anyone who owns land or buildings in Limington is painfully aware that twice a year they must pay property taxes to the Town of Limington to fund local operations and schools.  However, many people do not realize that businesses not only have to pay these taxes on their land and buildings, but must now also pay local property taxes on their business equipment.  Machinery, construction equipment, furniture, store fixtures, computers, and even telephones all are assessed and require the payment of yearly personal property taxes by the business.

    In February, the selectmen mailed to registered businesses in town a form which must be returned to the town office by April 15th.  Each business must list the manufacture date and cost new for all of its equipment.  For leased equipment, either the business or the lease holder must pay the tax.  Either way, the business will end up over the long haul paying for the town's personal property tax.

    While the town has long had the authority to collect these taxes, only in the last few years have the selectmen aggressively pursued this revenue.  Years ago, businesses had to pay taxes on inventory as of April 1st.  The Legislature repealed that law so that inventory can no longer be taxed but the towns do have the authority to tax machinery and equipment used in business.

    Since many of the nearby towns do not assess these taxes, some local businesses feel that they are being placed at a competitive disadvantage.  Some businesses such as machine shops and construction firms require a tremendous capital investment, an investment that takes years of operation in which to recoup the initial outlay.  When the expense of these new taxes, year after year, is added to their working costs, some owners are starting to wonder if they will be able to continue to compete.

    Another worry is the chilling effect on new home businesses.  The Limington Comprehensive Plan recognized the need and desire to allow people to start small home businesses.  However, most people do not think about the fact that their personal computer, which may be tax exempt when used for playing games, suddenly becomes taxable property when used for commercial purposes.

    And some worry that the tax is not being administered equitably.  One local contractor, feeling that this personal property tax was being assessed unfairly, went as far as hiring a lawyer to address the problem.  Being a one-man operation isn't easy in the construction business, especially when one has to compete against larger contractors with their multi-person crews who can make simultaneous use of the equipment.  The one-man operation still must have a wide variety of equipment, all of which is taxed, but can use only a single piece at a time.  But what really irks this one local contractor is that another local contractor with more equipment is paying only a fraction of the tax that he must pay.  Many businesses do not mind paying the tax, but feel that the tax burden should be distributed fairly.

    One source of relief does exist:  For newly installed equipment, repairs, and improvements, the Business Property Tax Reimbursement Program can provide reimbursement for personal property tax paid to the Town of Limington.

    How do you feel about these business taxes?  Please answer the on-line survey that accompanies this article.  Individual responses are confidential and the results are updated and displayed continuously and immediately as people answer the questions.

    The poll is now over.  Click the link below to view the results.

Personal Property Tax Poll
Do you feel that the Personal Property Tax hurts business in Limington?

Do you feel that the Personal Property Tax is administered fairly?

View Results

Links to state laws on personal property taxes:
Title 36: Taxation
      Title 36: § 655 Personal Property Exemptions
      Title 36: § 706 Taxpayers to list property

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