Scarborough will fight lawsuit over waterfront tax assessments

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SCARBOROUGH — As a result of the Feb. 13 snow storm, Prout’s Neck property owners will have to wait until March 18 for the final Board of Assessment Review vote on 22 appeals of 2012 property valuations.

The vote, expected to uphold increases of 14 percent determined by former Assessor Paul Lesperance, will come at about the same time the town responds to a lawsuit filed Jan. 14 in Cumberland County Superior Court by 34 Higgins Beach and Pine Point property owners.

Town Manager Tom Hall said the response to the suit, which asks a judge to overturn the board’s Dec. 17, 2013, rejection of appeals by Higgins Beach and Pine Point residents, will be ready by the end of next month.

“The town will continue to defend its interests in Superior Court,” Hall said, a day after an executive session with Town Councilors, Assessor Bill Healey, Lesperance and attorney Robert Crawford, who represented Lesperance through the local appeal process.

The Board of Assessment Review rejected 43 appeals last December after hearings that began last August. Nine appellants declined to become plaintiffs in the suit.

Lesperance retired in April 2013, but has served on a per-diem basis through the appeal process.

Hall said Crawford will handle the town response to the suit. The court granted plaintiff’s attorney John Shumadine a 30-day extension to prepare transcripts of the appeal hearings. The town will have to review the transcripts before filing its response, Hall said.

Shumadine’s court appeal is also based on a discrimination claim. In his brief, he said Lesperance was selective in choosing waterfront and “water-influenced” properties for revaluation and the board decision upholding Lesperance’s work was “arbitrary, capricious, legally erroneous and wholly unsupported by the evidence in the record.”

Legal costs for defending the appeals are approaching $100,000, and Hall said the early estimate for the Superior Court defense is between $10,000 and $12,000. Because the court will be reviewing the hearings, Hall said the case will be less costly to prepare.

During appeal hearings, Lesperance said he revalued 754 properties in 2012, and increased valuations on 279, based on sales data that showed waterfront property values were not harmed by the recession in 2008.

Attorneys William Dale and Jon Block also claim their clients were discriminated against when Lesperance increased valuations on Prout’s Neck waterfront properties in 2012.

Both relied on testimony from independent appraiser George Koutalakis and Leslie Craig, a broker with Doris Homer Real Estate, to rebut Lesperance’s argument that Prout’s Neck waterfront property sale prices were not harmed by the recession.

Board members including Christopher Herrick and William Frothingham discounted Koutalakis’ comparisons of sales data, saying they did not involve waterfront properties, as well as Dale’s argument that properties in the Piper Shores area should also have been increased in value.

A court decision favoring the plaintiffs could have expensive ramifications for the town, possibly extending to 94 property owners who originally and unsuccessfully appealed the 2012 valuations.

In December, Healey calculated the 94 abatement requests totalled about $40 million in valuations. They generated $550,000 in property tax revenue that Hall said would likely have to be refunded.

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

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.