Retiring Scarborough assessor leaves a wealth of enjoyment behind

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SCARBOROUGH — Retiring Assessor Paul Lesperance is capping 29 years of quiet accessibility.

“I never thought I’d be here 29 years. I thought it might be a stepping stone for something in Portland or New Hampshire,” Lesperance said. “I got here and knew this is the place I wanted to be.”

His retirement is not official until the middle of next month, but Lesperance’s last day at work is Friday, March 29, capping three decades in a job he said he has always aspired to and always enjoyed.

“I’ve always had an open door policy. Most people don’t make an appointment,” he said.

In the 1980s, Lesperance was the assessor and acting town manager in Millinocket. He said he preferred assessing and emphasized the point when interviewing for the Scarborough position.

He arrived in Scarborough as the town was changing and growing, in both its residential and commercial sectors.

“In Millinocket, there were maybe five or six new houses and 100 building permits a year,” he recalled. “It was like night and day. I was now doing 50-60 houses a year.”

Lesperance said about two-thirds of the Millinocket tax base was based on a paper mill. The Scarborough tax base has remained consistent, with between 75 percent and 80 percent residential property at the core.

He said he knew a full revaluation of town properties was overdue, since the last one was done in 1979. But the work was delayed until the town set up a computer network.

“It took two years to get the town on computer, almost a year to enter data on properties,” Lesperance said. “I did my first reval in 1990, and it was very controversial. Land values really increased.”

The last full revaluation of town properties was in 2005. A stalled economy has had its effects, Lesperance said.

“If you don’t have sales, chances are you are not going to do a revaluation,” he said. “An assessment is based on past sales.”

Assessing is intended to be outside political influence, but annual property valuations play a major role in municipal politics because Maine towns and cities rely substantially on property tax revenue to fund school and operating budgets.

The annual valuation of local properties, determining the annual tax rate, is not completed until mid-summer, but Lesperance also provides an estimate that Town Manager Tom Hall uses to draft his budget.

For fiscal year 2014, Hall estimated a $15 million increase in the total town valuation to about $3.64 billion. From that, the initial budget seeks a $6.1 million increase in property tax revenues, to $56.7 million.

Valuations are now relatively stagnant, Lesperance said.

“In the peak, we were adding $50 million to $70 million in new construction (annually),” he said.

Hall said he valued Lesperance’s expertise and his approach.

“Very seldom do people appear at the office with a smile on their face,” Hall said. “Paul has a really unique ability of helping them understand how (assessing) works.”

Assistant Assessor Susan Russo was appointed interim assessor last month by town councilors. The search to replace Lesperance will involve town staff and councilors.

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

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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.