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Waterfront property tax appeals continue in Scarborough

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Waterfront property tax appeals continue in Scarborough

SCARBOROUGH — Appeals of tax assessments on waterfront properties will continue into 2014 as Prout's Neck residents have their say in front of the Board of Assessment Review.

Next Tuesday, Dec. 17, the board will release its findings of fact on appeals of 2012 assessments of 43 properties in Pine Point and Higgins Beach. Board members indicated Nov. 26 they do not support the appellants' claims of discrimination, but have not made a final decision.

On Tuesday, appeals on 12 of 22 properties on Prout's Neck were presented by attorney Bill Dale, who verbally sparred with former Town Assessor Paul Lesperance and David Ledew, director of the Maine Revenue Services Property Tax Division, about sales data and the state review of Lesperance's work.

On Jan. 7, 2014, attorney Jon Block will appeal 10 assessments on Prout's Neck properties in the area of Scarborough Beach State Park. Board deliberations on the Prout's Neck appeals are scheduled for Jan. 14, 2014.

At issue are increases in land valuations ranging from 10 to 15 percent, made as part of a 2012 review of 754 waterfront properties by Lesperance. Town Manager Tom Hall said Wednesday the appeals by 94 property owners amount to about $40 million of assessments. They would result in about $550,000 of tax abatements if all the appeals are granted.

Hall said the town has spent almost $89,000 defending the appeals, with almost $71,000 billed by Robert Crawford of Bernstein Shur for his work with Lesperance since August.

Board attorney Durward Parkinson has billed the town for the remainder of the legal fees.

The increased valuations closed the ratio between assessment and market values, Lesperance said. State regulations require an average 10 percent variance from the match between assessed and market values.

Lesperance retired in April, but has remained as a special deputy assessor during the appeals at a rate of $20 per hour. Hall said he has logged 118 hours so far, but has not billed the town for his services.

Dale claimed Lesperance's work was discriminatory because 16 waterfront properties near Spurwink Road on the way to Higgins Beach have not had their assessments increased since 2005.

"We don't need to show our values are too high if we can show it is unfair these property owners did not get the 14.5 percent increase," Dale said.

Lesperance said the revaluations reflect the true nature of the waterfront real estate market, which he said was not harmed by the recession in 2008. He cited eight sales from 2006 to April 1, 2012, to justify his view that properties were assessed below market value.

"The waterfront did not suffer from any Great Recession based on any sales data I am looking at," Lesperance said.

He added there were no increases in the 16 properties mentioned by Dale because there was no sales data.

Dale criticized using sales data from before 2011, contending state law should automatically exclude any data older than 24 months from the April 1, 2012 cut-off date.

Ledew was asked to testify in regard to the state's review of Lesperance's work, which was evaluated in an August report by Mike Rogers, Maine Revenue supervisor of municipal services.

Before the audit review was released, Ledew wrote a one-page letter determining "further investigation by the department is unwarranted."

The audit review has been criticized by appellants because it expanded the data field to include sales after April 1, 2012, and concluded Lesperance correctly identified market trends in his revaluation.

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