Scarborough assessment audit draws mixed reviews
SCARBOROUGH — A 68-page audit review of a disputed 2012 property revaluation is being lauded by the town and criticized by unhappy homeowners.
The Aug. 5 report, written by Mike Rogers, the Maine Revenue Service supervisor of municipal services, backs the methodology employed by former Town Assessor Paul Lesperance for 20-25 percent assessment increases in waterfront and "water-influenced" areas of Pine Point, Higgins Beach and Prout's Neck.
"The 2012 assessments employ sound and acceptable mass appraisal techniques and methodology," Rogers concluded.
The report was released Aug. 23, four weeks later than expected and after a Freedom of Access Act request by The Forecaster to department Director David Ledew. Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall on Thursday said he received the review as he was completing his own FOAA request to Ledew.
"We all knew it existed," Hall said.
The report was preceded by release of a one-page summary statement the day before by the MRS.
"It provides a lot more data and information that will be helpful through the appeal process, and definitive statements about our practices and methodologies," Hall said.
Don Petrin, who lives in River Sands Drive in Pine Point and is one of 94 property owners appealing fiscal year 2013 assessments to the town Board of Assessment Review, said the report is irrelevant because Rogers used sales data not considered by Lesperance to uphold the assessor's work.
"Just not the right thing to do," Petrin said. "You don't do that."
Forty-four appeals of Higgins Beach and Pine Point assessments were tabled until Sept. 23 after technical difficulties at an Aug. 19 hearing, and Petrin said he expects Rogers' use of sales data not referenced by Lesperance will not be allowed as evidence.
Hall said use of data on sales after April 1, 2012, by Rogers is not a concern, because it upheld the trends Lesperance saw when he conducted the revaluation.
The audit review was written after a July 16 meeting with Rogers and Ledew, attended by Petrin, his River Sands Road neighbor Robert Mullazi, and Spurwink Road resident Alex Timpson. Petrin said his recollection of the meeting runs counter to Rogers' conclusions about revaluation methods.
"It was more than sympathy, it was total agreement,” Petrin said about Rogers' views about the appellants' claims that revaluations were selectively made with outdated sales data.
Hall said the review, made by "the experts, and independent in their evaluation and opinion," establishes Lesperance acted properly and equitably in the process.
At the Aug. 19 hearing, Lesperance said said he increased values on 279 properties.
"Most of which were water-influenced areas,” Lesperance said. He decreased values on 475 properties. There are 8,660 taxable properties in Scarborough, and about 6,500 are residential.
Lesperance retired in April, but has served as a per diem special assessor through the appeals process. He denied the appeals before the Board of Assessment review last February.
Rogers did note inconsistencies in the revaluation process.
"These types of errors are evident in any mass-appraisal of this magnitude," he said, "and should not preclude future valuation refinements and adjustments deemed necessary as future real estate market trends develop."
Petrin found that conclusion troublesome because he contends it was not a "mass-appraisal," and any errors were unacceptable.
Forty-three of 44 appeals postponed to Sept. 23 are represented by attorney John Shumadine of Portland-based Murray Plumb & Murray, with help from independent real estate appraiser George Koutalakis.
An Aug. 5 letter from Shumadine to the board indicates the appellant strategy will be to attack the revaluation as discriminatory and the use of sales data from as far back as 2006 as flawed.
Appeals from Prout's Neck property owners will be heard in October and November.