State tax officials are reviewing a recent increase in Scarborough’s waterfront property assessments, after receiving multiple complaints from residents who say the town unfairly targeted their properties to cover rising costs.
Ninety-four residential property owners in the Pine Point, Higgins Beach and Prouts Neck neighborhoods have appealed their 2012 property tax assessments to the town’s Board of Assessment Review. Hearings will start Aug. 19.
For the first time since 2005, Scarborough increased land assessments on or near the waterfront to reflect current market values, town officials say.
Coastal residents say the town conducted a “targeted revaluation” that unjustly increased their land assessments 16 percent to 40 percent this year, many of them million-dollar properties. Some townspeople recently formed Concerned Taxpayers of Scarborough, which has an active Facebook page, and sent a letter to residents this week about the coastal revaluation.
“There’s a huge disparity in how the tax burden is being shouldered in this town,” said Don Petrin, a Pine Point resident. “Property taxes should be assessed fairly. Groups of people shouldn’t be targeted or omitted.”
The assessed value of Petrin’s 0.35-acre lot on the Scarborough River jumped 25 percent this year, from $585,700 to $732,100. The overall assessment of his property at 14 River Sands Drive increased 18 percent, from $814,400 to $960,800, including $228,700 for the house.
His annual tax bill, based on the combined value of the land and buildings, jumped from $10,481 to $13,320.
On July 15, Petrin was among several Scarborough residents who shared their concerns with Michael Rogers, supervisor of municipal services for Maine Revenue Services.
Rogers confirmed Thursday that he met with Scarborough residents and is reviewing the town’s assessment practices. He would not discuss his findings before issuing a report to the town, as soon as Monday.
Petrin and other coastal residents say the former assessor, Paul Lesperance, who retired in March, failed to do a valid market study of comparable properties when he updated land assessments last fall. They say the error affected properties across town, but the increases are concentrated along the coast.
Lesperance couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. He has agreed to work a few hours each week while waterfront assessments are reviewed, said Town Manager Tom Hall.
William Healey, the new assessor, declined to comment on the assessments while they’re being reviewed.
Town Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist said he’s willing to review the issue after the town receives Rogers’ report, but he has faith in Lesperance’s assessments.
“I’m sure everything that was done is completely legal,” Ahlquist said. “The people on the water are paying their fair share for the first time in a while. This group is trying to get everyone to dispute their revaluations and they want us to cave in, but it ain’t gonna happen.”
Councilor Ed Blaise, who lives in the Higgins Beach neighborhood, isn’t so sure.
“Those neighbors have formed a group and they’re taking the town to task,” Blaise said. “The rest of the council doesn’t seem to be concerned, but I think it’s a serious problem.”
The $820,300 assessed value of Blaise’s home hasn’t changed since 2005, according to the town’s website. Blaise said his property wasn’t affected by the revaluation because it’s not directly on the waterfront.
Petrin said he believes that town officials acted deliberately to increase coastal property values because they faced rising costs for municipal and school programs.
Hall denied that anyone directed the assessor “to create value that doesn’t exist to generate new tax dollars.” He said the assessor is expected to act independently under Maine law, and he defended the assessor’s work.
Hall noted that land values were increased on fewer than 300 properties and decreased on more than 400.
“The goal is equity for everyone,” Hall said. “All of these decisions were based on sales. Unfortunately, in some neighborhoods, you don’t have to do anything to your property and your value goes up.”
Still, Hall said, it’s understandable that some taxpayers are upset.
The town budget is up 7.7 percent for the fiscal year that started July 1, from $50 million to $54 million, and the tax rate increased 7.2 percent, from $13.80 to $14.80 per $1,000 property value.
For the average home in town, assessed at $300,000, the annual tax bill is set to increase $300, from $4,140 to $4,440.
“Scarborough is on an unsustainable path,” Hall said. “Taxpayers are at a breaking point and we need to pay attention to that.”
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: