2013-08-09 / Neighbors

Coastal residents fighting assessment

Forty-four appeals to be reviewed at Aug. 19 Board of Assessment meeting
By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

A citizens’ group has claimed coastal properties were unfairly assessed by the town. (File photo) A citizens’ group has claimed coastal properties were unfairly assessed by the town. (File photo) A group of Scarborough residents have come together after claiming their properties were overassessed last year in an effort by the town to create additional revenue to reduce the tax rate.

The group claims coastal properties were unfairly targeted and sent a letter out to hundreds of residents last week, alerting them of the issue.

The letter, addressed “Dear Scarborough Homeowner,” went out to select Scarborough residents alerting them that “on Aug. 20, 2012, the Town of Scarborough communicated to a very small percentage of Scarborough homeowners that their properties were revalued. This resulted in the collection of hundreds of thousands of dollars from primarily coastal homeowners, but it may have affected you as well. This revenue helped fill a gap due to the loss of federal funds previously provided to the town. It was also used to adjust the increase in Scarborough’s property tax (mil rate) to 5.9 percent, which you paid.”

The letter states some properties were “significantly over-assessed” and intentionally excluded from the reevaluation to prevent homeowners from receiving a reduction in property tax.

According to the letter, “four years of sales data on approximately 253 properties were found to be overassessed at 107 percent or more relative to market value, while 183 properties were over-assessed in excess of the state of Maine’s maximum guideline of 110 percent.”

Don Petrin, a homeowner in Pine Point, said the issue is not a tax issue, but one of fairness.

“No one here in Pine Point is adverse to paying taxes, or anywhere else in the coastal community or in the rest of the town of Scarborough, as long as it is handled appropriately and fairly.”

Petrin said he hopes the Town Council “steps up and does the right thing.”

It is a hope Petrin shares with others in the group.

“Scarborough’s Town Council has been aware of this for months and has chosen not to help you as it could significantly reduce revenues to the town,” the letter, sent out July 29, stated. “Despite the Scarborough Town Council’s ability to correct this unfair practice, it has taken no action. This inaction underscores the Council’s preference to wait and see if the Board of Assessment Review, the State of Maine Tax Division or the Maine Court system will step in to protect your interest and force the Council to correct this appalling practice.”

Town Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist said it is not something the council will take up, at least at this time.

“It’s not our mission to do that,” he said. “It’s a whole separate process.”

Ahlquist said he believes it is a fair assessment and is a “non-issue” as far as he is concerned.

“I have complete confidence in our assessing department and with what they have done and I am sure they will prevail in the appeals process,” Ahlquist said this week.

Paul Lesperance, the town’s former tax assessor, is handling the appeals. Ahlquist said he has “full faith” in his ability to do so.

“He retired, but he was considered one of the best in the state,” Ahlquist said of Lesperance.

While Town Councilor Ed Blaise isn’t so sure the reassessment was done properly, he is not exactly pointing fingers.

“I don’t think it is right,” said Blaise, who owns a home in the Higgins Beach area of town. “Whether it was done purposely or not, I don’t know.”

The assessed value of Blaise’s home, which is not directly on the water, did not change. He does, however, know many in the neighborhood who did see increased tax bills as a result.

Vin Bombaci was one of those homeowners. Bombaci, who saw his property tax assessment grow 20 percent, claims taxation is not just an issue for beachside property owners.

“They are killing everyone (with taxes) not just at the beach, but on the other side of town as well,” said Bombaci, who has lived at Higgins Beach for more than 50 years. “How long can this continue before people give up? It is frustrating.”

Bombaci said the increase in taxes is giving people no choice but to rent their homes in the off-season or move because they can’t afford to live at the beach any longer.

“It is changing the fiber of the beach,” he said.

Tax increases, he said, may prevent him from one day passing the home on to his children.

“There is no way my kids can afford to take over my house if this continues,” he said.

The increased tax bills have left many in Scarborough with no choice but to appeal their tax assessment.

Several homeowners have hired attorneys from such firms as Murray Plumb and Murray, Jensen Baird Gardner and Henry and Pierce Atwood to guide them through the appeals process.

William Healey, who took over for Lesperance earlier this summer, said he has no comment at this time on the appeals.

“Being that all of these are still in the appeals process, we respectfully are going to refrain from comment,” Healey said.

He did say the Board of Assessment Review will be reviewing 44 appeals at a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19 at Town Hall.

Healey said the final determination rests in the hands of the Maine Superior Court. Homeowners can appeal to the court if the Board of Assessment Review rules in the town’s favor and conversely the town can appeal to the court if the board rules in the homeowner’s favor.

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