Scarborough tax appeals rejected, may end up in court
SCARBOROUGH — River Sands Drive resident Don Petrin said Wednesday the fight isn't over on appeals of 2012 property tax assessments.
"We will go the Maine Supreme Court if necessary. We’ve already raised the bulk of the cost and will file within 30 days," Petrin said, after a unanimous Board of Assessment Review on Tuesday rejected an appeal by owners of 43 properties at Higgins Beach and Pine Point.
Assessed land values on the properties were increased as much as 25 percent.
Board Chairman Alan Peoples and members Kathy Fuente and Christopher Herrick agreed on 22 findings of fact and a motion to reject the appeals, which were presented as one case by attorney John Shumadine.
The decision upholds revaluations by former Town Assessor Paul Lesperance, who retired in April and now works on a per-diem basis as a special deputy assessor. Lesperance revalued 754 properties in 2012, according to hearing testimony, and increased values on 279.
After Lesperance rejected appeals, 95 property owners – all but one residential – filed appeals with the Board of Assessment Review.
Shumadine's appeal argued Lesperance discriminated against 13 waterfront properties in Higgins Beach and 30 properties in Pillsbury Shores, a Pine Point subdivision. The hearings began in late August and continued once a month through October.
Discrimination is one of three claims that can be pursued in appeals, with the burden of proof falling to the appellants. Shumadine said Lesperance singled out the property owners and failed to provide valid sales data to establish that the increase in land values was justified by market prices. He also claimed use of sales data from as far back as 2006 was invalid because of the 2008 recession.
Lesperance said his review of data established that waterfront market values in town were not harmed by the recession. He said the revaluation brought the affected properties closer to a par value between assessed and market values.
Shumadine discounted the ratios, saying at least 40 percent of town properties were assessed at 10 percent lower or 10 percent higher than market values.
Petrin said the board members couldn't understand the complexities of the appeals.
"Not one individual board member provided any written analysis or rationale of their own," Petrin said. "Instead, they resorted to (board attorney Durward) Parkinson, who is paid by the town, to draft the document from which they subsequently made a few very insignificant modifications."
At the Nov. 26 hearing where the board began deliberations, Parkinson offered to write the findings, but said he expected board input. He repeated himself Tuesday as the 22 points were discussed.
"These need to be your findings, not my findings," he said.
Board members also dismissed arguments about sales data and trends presented by independent appraiser George Koutalakis, saying his study omitted key factors Lesperance had presented.
The board is still hearing testimony on 22 Prout's Neck properties. Hearings began Dec. 11 and will continue Jan. 7, 2014. Deliberations on the appeals are scheduled to begin on Jan. 14, 2014.
Attorneys Bill Dale and Jon Block represent the property owners in areas "inside the fence" beyond the Black Point Inn and along Black Point Road as it approaches Spurwink Road.
On Dec. 11, Dale argued his clients also suffered discrimination and said there were 16 Spurwink Road properties unaffected by the 2012 revaluation.
Lesperance said there were no sales in the area to provide data for a revaluation, an argument that angered Petrin because of a lack of sales in Pillsbury Shores during the same time period.
Dale also called David Ledew, director of the Maine Revenue Services Property Tax Division, to talk about the department review of assessment work. But much of what Ledew revealed came during a cross examination by attorney Robert Crawford, who represents Lesperance.
Ledew said the former assessor's work had improved equity in town, and his approach of reviewing individual neighborhoods was valid.
"(Appellants said) 'If you going to factor waterfront property, you had to factor all waterfront property,'" he said. "I've never known that to be true.”
Lesperance's work was also reviewed by Mike Rogers of the Maine Revenue Service, who met with Petrin, his neighbor Robert Mullazi, and Spurwink Road resident Al Timpson last July.
Ledew and Rogers both concluded the state did not have to further investigate the revaluation.
Rogers also reviewed 32 sales and used 31 to establish Lesperance was correct in identifying market trends for the revaluation. Appellants have objected to Rogers' conclusions because he included sales up to June 30, 2012, where Lesperance included sales to April 1, 2012.
Abatements on the 94 residential properties would cost the town about $550,000 based on $40 million in value, Town Manager Tom Hall said last week. Legal fees are approaching $90,000, with almost $71,000 billed by Crawford.