Appeals board decision eludes Scarborough property owners

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SCARBOROUGH — After two months of delays, recesses and audio malfunctions, attorney John Shumadine got his say Tuesday in appeals of 43 property assessments at Higgins Beach and Pine Point.

What he and his clients did not get was a decision from the town Board of Assessment Review regarding valuations in 2012 by former Assessor Paul Lesperance.

The appeal hearings began Aug. 19, were continued to Sept. 23, and an appeal by Shipwreck Road resident Nancy Strong was denied Oct. 8 after a two-hour hearing.

That decision on the remaining appeals is expected Nov. 26. Board Chairman Alan Peoples asked the appellants and town to submit briefs summarizing their stances in the protracted dispute.

Shumadine, an attorney with Portland-based Murray Plumb & Murray, needed fewer than two hours to present his case that the increased property valuations were discriminatory, based on flawed sale price-to-assessment ratios, and flawed because Lesperance used sales data from before and during the 2007 recession to justify 17-25 percent property valuation increases.

Lesperance retired in April, but now serves as a special deputy assessor through the appeals process.

With a presentation from independent appraiser George Koutalakis, Shumadine told the board the average ratios and state quality ratings that were the basis of Lesperance’s defense were hollowed by data showing 60 percent of waterfront sales from 2010 to 2012 fell outside the 10 percent variance between assessed value and market price used as a state guideline.

While Lesperance and a review of his 2012 revaluation of about 750 properties by Mike Rogers of the Maine Revenue Service established the increased assessments improved ratios and the quality ratings, Koutalakis said his reviews painted an entirely different picture.

“The assessment ratios are pretty much all over the place,” Koutalakis said. “Basically, what I found was not consistency.”

Koutalakis, a professional appraiser,  said he was asked by Shumadine to review sales data from 2010 through 2012, but made no appraisals himself.

A second study matching 22 “paired sales” of homes that sold before before and after the 2007 recession was used to dispute Lesperance’s argument the waterfront and water-influenced property values were not harmed by the recession.

Koutalakis excluded sales from foreclosures, but said his data showed each othe  properties in question sold for less money after the recession than before.

Combined with 21 foreclosure or “short” sales from 2010 through 2012 excluded from state review, Koutalakis said his findings showed “it is obvious the recession did not skip the town of Scarborough.”

Shumadine and Koutalakis also attacked Lesperance’s assessments of “excess land,” undeveloped properties which Lesperance considered unsuitable for building, as discriminatory.

Lesperance and attorney Rob Crawford submitted an analysis of the revaluation and state review late in the meeting, a development that disappointed Don Petrin, an appellant who lives on Riversands Drive in Pine Point.

“Obviously, there was no opportunity to digest, disseminate and review this,” Petrin said in an email. “… Frankly, it is not relevant at this point, discrimination was already established.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.