January 2, 2012

As house values fall, why don't taxes?

Whether a property owner is paying his or her fair share can be in the eye of the beholder, leading many Mainers to challenge their property assessments.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Aaron Amirault bought this Falmouth home last January for nearly $100,000 below the town’s assessed property value. He challenged the assessment and it was decreased, shaving $478 off his tax bill. “I’m not against paying my fair share,” Amirault said. “I just want it to be based on the real value of my property.”

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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As a result, South Portland and Westbrook have assessment ratios of 94 percent and 97 percent, respectively, and quality ratings of 7.

Sawyer's greater challenge has been managing commercial property assessments in a down market.

When the owners of the Maine Mall in South Portland sought an abatement, she reduced their assessment from $268.6 million in 2006 to $252.9 million in 2009 to $219.8 million in 2010. Still, the mall's owners have appealed the $48.8 million reduction, though it saves them $785,680 on their annual tax bill.

Sawyer also reduced the assessment of the South Portland printing plant of MaineToday Media, which publishes The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. The real estate assessment dropped from $16.9 million in 2008 to $12 million today, saving the company $78,890 on its annual tax bill.

When commercial assessments drop, other commercial and residential property owners have to pick up the slack, because the cost of running city government is redistributed, Sawyer said.

In Falmouth, Assessor Anne Gregory recently visited Aaron Amirault's property on Middle Road and reduced his assessment to reflect the lack of a finished basement and a smaller backyard deck.

Comparing the house to other similar properties in town, she figures Amirault got a deal on his 1993 Colonial with a detached garage. She likens it to getting a bargain an anything, from a designer dress to a late-model car. Just because you paid less than the going rate, she says, doesn't mean it's worth less.

"We're trying to predict the value of 4,000 homes in Falmouth," Gregory said emphatically. "If we get within 10 percent, that's a bull's-eye."

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:



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