SCARBOROUGH — State revenue officials have completed their review of contested waterfront property tax assessments, and town officials aren’t happy about the lack of clarity in the letter they got Thursday explaining the state’s findings.
More than 90 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.
For the first time since 2005, Scarborough increased land assessments on or near the water to reflect current market values, pushing up land assessments 16 percent to 40 percent for this year’s tax bills.
Affected property owners say the town conducted a “targeted revaluation” and failed to conduct a valid market study of comparable properties, and they contacted officials at Maine Revenue Services to review the assessments.
Scarborough Assessor William Healey Jr. received a letter Thursday from David Ledew, director of the state’s Property Tax Division, explaining the results of the review.
“We have diligently reviewed the results of the 2012 land valuation increases specifically related to the subset of waterfront and waterfront-influenced properties,” Ledew wrote. “Based on our analysis, we determined that further investigation by the state tax assessor is unwarranted.”
The letter doesn’t say whether state revenue officials found the assessments to be valid or not.
It also doesn’t say whether state officials found any problems with the process that the town assessor used to calculate new property assessments.
“This review was not a comprehensive review of all property record information of the individual properties within the waterfront and water-influenced area to determine the accuracy of the information used for the individual residential assessments,” Ledew wrote. “We would encourage you to review each property to assure the accuracy of each assessment.”
Spokesmen for state revenue officials and the governor’s office didn’t respond to calls and emails seeking clarification of the letter and information about the state’s review.
Town officials were expecting to receive a 55-page report reflecting a detailed analysis that was completed a few weeks ago, said Town Manager Tom Hall. They learned recently that the report was being reviewed by Gov. Paul LePage and contacted the governor’s office to release the report, Hall said.
“It was frustrating that the report was held up in the first place,” Hall said. “I thought that was curious. But this letter is unclear at best. We’d like access to the work product of the review so perhaps we can draw our own conclusions.”
Hall said the town plans to seek whatever data state officials gathered in their review and may file a Freedom of Access request if necessary.
The town’s Board of Assessment Review began hearing waterfront appeals on Monday and they’re expected to continue into September, Hall said.
Don Petrin is one property owner who’s appealing his assessment because he believes an unfair share of the tax burden has been foisted upon waterfront neighborhoods. He’s not surprised that the state’s response isn’t more telling.
“The state was clear before they even conducted their analysis that their report would not pass judgment on (whether) discriminatory practices (were) employed and that they preferred that the courts do so,” Petrin said in a written statement.
The assessed value on 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 land and buildings, jumped from $10,481 to $13,320.
Petrin noted that Ledew’s letter points out the state’s authority to investigate assessments for four reasons: concealment of property from taxation, undervaluation, overvaluation and failure to assess property taxes.
“The state is not concerned with the fair apportionment of the tax burden amongst and between homeowners or discriminatory practices,” Petrin said. “The state turns a blind eye to discriminatory practices and will not enforce Maine statutes in that regard. The state is also clear in its letter that they have not done a comprehensive review.”
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: