September 16, 2010

Assessors ask: Where is Ram Island light?

The newly sold lighthouse will to added to the tax rolls of Cape Elizabeth or Portland.

By Edward D. Murphy
Staff Writer

Ram Island Ledge Light will move onto the tax rolls because of its pending sale from the federal government to a doctor from Windham.

click image to enlarge

Ram Island Ledge Light is seen Tuesday from a tour boat in Casco Bay. Now that it is in private hands, it will be placed on the tax rolls. But it’s unclear whether it is in Cape Elizabeth, as the federal government thinks, or Portland, as locals believe.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

The question is, which tax rolls?

According to the online auction site set up by the U.S. General Services Administration, the lighthouse is at the entrance to Portland Harbor, off Cape Elizabeth.

The site says its street address is "Cumberland County," and the city is Cape Elizabeth.

That's news to Cape Elizabeth's town manager.

"We don't believe it's in Cape Elizabeth," said Mike McGovern. "We believe it's in the city of Portland."

Portland's tax assessor, Richard Blackburn, said McGovern is probably right.

"There have been some questions" about which municipality the lighthouse is in, Blackburn said, and those questions have never been answered.

Even though the lighthouse has been around for 105 years, there never has been a need to establish which municipality it's in because federal property is exempt from local taxes.

A change in that status was set in motion when the Coast Guard decided to sell the lighthouse and the ledge on which it stands, while retaining responsibility for maintaining the light and the foghorn.

The online auction started in June, after no local governments or nonprofit groups expressed any interest in the lighthouse. It ended Tuesday, as a bidder known as "redtide" offered $190,000 Tuesday morning. The rules of the auction gave competing bidders until 3 p.m. to top the offer.

When no one did, "redtide" became a lighthouse owner, subject to closing on the sale in the next 60 days.

The General Services Administration said "redtide" is Dr. Jeffrey Florman, but Florman declined to confirm that or comment on the lighthouse Wednesday afternoon.

Blackburn, Portland's assessor, said that unless Florman transfers ownership to a nonprofit entity, Ram Island Ledge Light's residence will have to be determined by April 1, when he sets tax rolls.

He looked at a few charts while the auction was going on, Blackburn said, and "it looked to us like it would be in Portland, but the federal government said Cape Elizabeth."

He said further research will be needed in the next few months.

Blackburn said officials can't do what they often do to set property values -- look at sale prices of comparable properties -- so the city would most likely set the value at the sale price of $190,000.

At current rates, the means the waterfront property would be taxed about $3,400, said Blackburn, who noted that the ledge is unlikely to receive any city services in return.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:


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