November 4, 2013

Tax bills arrive with surprise in Brunswick

Computerized improvements in the town's appraisal system for mobile home assessments raise concerns.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BRUNSWICK — Sharon Brown was shocked when she took a second look at her latest property tax bill and saw that the assessed value of her mobile home had increased from $17,500 to $19,700.

click image to enlarge

Sharon Brown, standing outside her mobile home in Brunswick, saw her property tax bill increase 12.6 percent this year. She is among about a dozen mobile home owners who have questioned their assessments.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

The 12.6 percent increase came after the town computerized its annual spring appraisal of what is thought to be the largest number of mobile homes in Maine.

Brown, a semiretired bookkeeper, was used to seeing the town’s assessment of her 1999 three-bedroom trailer depreciate or hold steady from year to year. The $2,200 increase prompted Brown to call the assessor’s office and question the basis of her annual tax bill, which increased 44 percent, from $157 last year to $226 this year.

“I knew the tax rate was going up, so I didn’t pay much attention at first,” said Brown, 69. “Then a neighbor asked me about my valuation and I was really surprised to see that my assessment went up, too.”

The $69 tax increase was quite a hit to her already tight budget.

Brown is among about a dozen mobile home owners who have questioned their assessments since the town computerized its annual appraisal of about 1,200 mobile homes, said Cathleen Donovan, town assessor.

Donovan said her office has reviewed a handful of mobile home assessments at the request of homeowners but changed none, largely because any increases were made to reflect recent real estate sales.

“The assessments might have changed, but their properties might have been undervalued,” Donovan said, noting that any homeowner who disputes an assessment can request a review and an adjustment.

Although there’s no statewide tally of mobile homes, Bangor has 1,000, Lewiston has 541 and Lisbon has about 500, according to municipal officials.

Brunswick has three large mobile home parks, Donovan said. Linnhaven Mobile Home Park and Maplewood Manor each has more than 300 trailers, she said, and Bay Bridge Estates has more than 400 trailers. One theory is that the proximity of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station may have played a role in the development of such large parks.

Donovan said it’s difficult to do a year-to-year comparison of individual mobile home values because 70 to 100 are sold each year and sometimes moved to different lots in town and within parks.

The total value of all mobile homes in Brunswick is $32.4 million, down $157,000 from $32.6 million in 2012, Donovan said. The total value fell $448,400 the previous year, from $33 million in 2011.

Until this year, an employee in the assessor’s office typically took up to three months to go through 1,200 file cards and update mobile home assessments individually, Donovan said. When town leaders reduced her staff from four to three workers, it became clear that it was time to further streamline appraisals and include mobile homes among the more than 9,500 taxable properties in the town’s database of computerized assessments, she said.

Donovan mailed letters in April to all mobile home owners letting them know that members of her staff would be visiting mobile homes in May to measure each one and take note of exterior decks, screened rooms and sheds. They also would take photos of each home but wouldn’t go inside.

Donovan attributed some concern about higher tax bills to a higher tax rate, which increased 6.6 percent this year, from $24.90 to $26.54 per $1,000 of assessed property value. She also noted that the town assesses properties below market value.

(Continued on page 2)

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