Monday, May 21, 2018
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Marblehead tax isn't their cup of tea

MARBLEHEAD - Invoking the spirit of the colonial rebels who dumped chests of tea into Boston Harbor to protest British tyranny, a group of Kelleys Island landowners is asking their neighbors to join a “tea party'' and reject Marblehead's proposed ferry tax next week.

In a mailing this week to about 500 homes of registered voters in Marblehead, the Kelleys Island Landowners Association urges them to overturn the fee in Tuesday's balloting.

“Your neighbors on Kelleys Island would appreciate your support in defeating the Departure Fee,” the handbills read. Please vote NO.”

The handbills continue: “Kelleys Island Tea Party. No taxation without representation.” Stapled to each slip is a tea bag.

Marblehead village council in April approved a ferry departure fee that calls for the two ferry companies in town to charge adults an added 50 cents, plus 50 cents for their cars. Children age 6 to 11 would be charged 25 cents, while those younger would ride for free. Ferries now charge about $10 for each adult, $5 for children over 6, and $17 for every car.

The charge would have taken effect in May, but Marblehead residents, business owners, and the ferry operators circulated a petition to have the issue placed on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Tom Kilbane, president of the landowners' association, said yesterday that the group wanted to express residents' anger over possibly being taxed to travel to and from their homes.

“The tax is unusual,” he said. “You're having one community basically taxing another community for just driving a few hundred feet of state highway. It's just kind of bizarre in its conception.”

The “tea party” campaign was the brainchild of Mayor Tony Kuchar, an association member and former president of the group. “It gets our message across, and it's not too heavy-handed,” Mr. Kilbane said.

The impromptu campaign, mapped out at a committee meeting last week, “came to just under $200. It's definitely low budget,” he added, chuckling.

But low budget or not, the campaign may be in violation of state election law, Marblehead Mayor Steve Plottner said.

“I don't think they registered with either the Ottawa County board of elections or the Erie County board of elections as a political action committee, but that's beside the point,” he said. “There's nothing new in that. It represents their opinion.”

Mr. Plottner said he filed a complaint with the Ottawa County board of elections and asked county Prosecutor Mark Mulligan to look into the matter.

“I'm not a crybaby,” the mayor said. “I just think everyone should follow the rules. They're set up for everyone. But I'm not too concerned about the mailing swaying people here who are voters.”

He added: “I brewed my cup of tea. One less tea bag to buy.”

JoAnn Friar, director of the Ottawa County board of elections, said her office received Mr. Plottner's complaint yesterday. She said the association hasn't registered as a political action committee but may not have to do so.

“Our understanding is that if this is a one-time expenditure, that they need to file form 31U, for an independent expenditure made by a campaign committee, political action committee, political party, or legislative campaign fund,” she said. “If it's a one-time thing they're doing, then that's all they have to do. It's also our understanding that if they're doing other things, then they would have to register as a political action committee, and we've written a letter to the association informing them of that.”

The association has until Dec. 15 - when post-election campaign finance reports are due - to file the required form, Ms. Friar said.

County prosecutor Mulligan said he would examine the issue but that based on Ms. Friar's opinion, it appeared that the mailing was legal.

“It would be premature to judge this a violation of the law if after the election they can comply with the law and do the appropriate filings afterward,” he said.

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