Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By Chris Chase
BATH — The city of Bath has imposed a $31,200 fine against an elderly couple for putting two accessory buildings on city property at least 26 years ago, and never removing them.
This so-called bath house is one of two small buildings near the Mallard Road cottage belonging to Esther and Mardouni Sharrigan that stand partially on city-owned land in Bath.
2014 file photo by Chris Chase/The Coastal Journal
The penalty for code violations – including trespassing on city property for more than two decades – amounts to $100 for each month since the trespass was first acknowledged in city records. The fine could have been as much as $100 a day for each violation, but a fine of more than $900,000 was deemed too high.
One issue may complicate the City Council’s decision to fine the couple, however: Bath has known about the buildings for 26 years and taxed the two buildings for nearly 20 years.
The couple, Mardouni and Esther Sharrigan, say they simply want to buy the city land to settle the dispute. Esther Sharrigan said the couple has been trying to acquire the property for years and has been stymied.
The Feb. 12 vote in favor of a fine came as a surprise, said John Bannon, their attorney.
“Given that there was no prior notice that the council was even going to consider penalties at that meeting, I’m still trying to develop a response,” Bannon said.
The land is part of a city-owned tract in an area known as Butler Head on the shore of Merrymeeting Bay. The city plans to give the tract to the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust.
The Sharrigans, who live in Wiscasset, own a cottage on Mallard Road on the eastern shore of the bay. The two buildings in question are a bath house and a bunk house, which are near the cottage but built at least partly on the city-owned conservation land.
The issue was first raised at the Jan. 8 council meeting when Bannon, of Murray Plumb & Murray in Portland, brought the couple’s proposal to the council. The couple, who are 86 and 76 years old, sought to purchase less than a half-acre of land in Butler Head, which he said constitutes just 0.3 percent of the 141-acre preserve.
The city has known about the buildings since at least 1989, according to meeting minutes discovered by Bannon. In addition, the tax assessments of the property from the 1985 re-evaluation include a penciled-in entry in 1987 that hints at the presence of secondary buildings.
According to tax assessment records, the city has been including the value of the two illegal buildings on tax bills for the Sharrigans’ property since at least 1995. Based on the tax rate from each year since, the Sharrigans have paid $10,266 in additional taxes on the added value of the buildings.
Along with voting to impose the fine, Bath’s city councilors decided this month to have the land appraised for a possible sale. However, the $31,200 fine was assessed without any guarantee that the Sharrigans will be able to acquire the property their buildings sit on.
Three councilors – Ward 6 Councilor David Sinclair, Ward 1 Councilor Meadow Merrill and Ward 2 Councilor Sean Paulhus – have all repeatedly voted against any sale of the property.
Sinclair was the only councilor who voted against imposing the fine, but that was because he thought it wasn’t steep enough.
“I’m going to vote against the motion, not because I think we should not assess a penalty, but rather because I think the penalty proposed is far too low for the egregious and willful violations over more than a quarter century,” said Sinclair.
Esther Sharrigan, who appeared at the Feb. 12 council meeting to address the council, said she approached the city about purchasing the land in the 1990s, not long after a council member purchased city land behind his own cottage in the same Butler Head area.
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