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Scarborough tax appeals expected to be denied

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Scarborough tax appeals expected to be denied

SCARBOROUGH — More than 20 appeals of 2012 tax assessments on Prout's Neck waterfront properties will likely be denied when the five-member Board of Assessment Review meets Feb. 13.

The board indicated its intentions at a Jan. 21 Town Hall meeting that lasted about 90 minutes, including a half-hour executive session.

About six hours before the board meets next week, Town Manager Tom Hall, the Town Council, attorney Robert Crawford and former Town Assessor Paul Lesperance are expected to meet privately to discuss a tax-appeal lawsuit filed against the town in Cumberland County Superior Court last month by 34 Higgins Beach and Pine Point property owners, Hall said Monday.

Board of Assessment members, meanwhile, are prepared to reject 22 claims that the 2012 Prout's Neck revaluation by Lesperance leading to 14 percent increases in property assessments were discriminatory. Lesperance retired last April, but has served on a per-diem basis as a special deputy assessor during the appeals process.

"(The appeals) didn't really rise to a threshold," Board Chairman Alan Peoples concluded Jan. 21.

Attorneys Bill Dale and Jon Block took the opposite view in appeal briefs filed before the board began deliberations. Dale represents 12 appellants who live along Black Point Road; Block represents 10 on Winslow Homer Drive.

"This is a classic case of impermissible discrimination in violation of Maine law," Dale concluded, arguing the appellants were targeted by Lesperance while, 16 property owners in the adjacent Piper Shores area saw no increases.

The 2012 revaluation of 754 waterfront and waterfront-influenced properties led to increases on 279 properties, Lesperance said during appeal hearings about revaluations in Prout's Neck, Pine Point and Higgins Beach.

He said his accumulated sales data showed waterfront property values were not harmed in the 2008 recession and indicated his assessed values had not kept pace with the market trends.

Appeals seeking about $550,000 in tax abatements on 95 valuations were denied by Lesperance about a year ago.

Hall last month said the legal fees from the appeals are approaching $100,000, and a court decision favoring Higgins and Pine Point property owners would likely trigger abatements for all appellants.

Dale attempted to whittle the eight sales listed by Lesperance as justification for the increases to one sale that could acceptably be called "arms-length," and thus legitimate for comparison.

He then said Lesperance should have considered a Piper Shores-area sale justification for increasing assessments in the neighborhood.

The rejection of Dale's argument was summarized by board member William Frothingham.

"The 16 properties are waterfront to be sure, they are expensive, they are larger in land area than the properties in Prout's Neck, but Prout's Neck is unique," he said.

Board member Kathy Fuente said the April 2012 sale of the "Carver property" in Piper Shores could not be considered arms-length because about 10 of the 30 acres are conserved in the state Tree Growth program and protected from development.

In his appeal, Block sought to suppress an audit review of Lesperance's work made last July by Mike Rogers of the Maine Revenue Services.

Quoting Dec. 3, 2013, hearing testimony by Property Tax Division Director David Ledew, in which Ledew told Dale the report was actually his single-page letter saying the state would no longer investigate the 2012 revaluation, Block concluded the audit review should not have been used by Lesperance to defend his work in the Prout's Neck appeals.

Ledew's letter was addressed to Hall, who then drafted a Maine Freedom of Access Act request for the full report. The full report was sent to him before he filed the FOAA request, Hall said Monday.

The audit report was used in the Higgins Beach and Pine Point appeals which concluded last December, but the validity was disputed by because Rogers used sales data compiled after Lesperance's April 1, 2012 cut off date for the revaluation to help establish market trends upholding Lesperance's work.

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