Starting this fall, Windham will undergo its first full property revaluation in eight years.

In accordance with state law, property evaluations for tax purposes must be within 70 percent of “fair market value.” And when the ratio dips below that magic 70 percent, properties must be revalued, says Windham Tax Assessor David Sawyer, so that the property tax burden is equally distributed.

The assessment of property is taken from the state constitution which says that property must be assessed at “just value.” That “just value” is the same as “market value,” Sawyer said.

“What we look for is what it’s worth on the market,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer and his assistant assessors will be doing field review this fall to verify the current data they have on town properties to determine their estimated market value. Sawyer said that they will look at many aspects in assessing the value of a home or storefront such as location, size, age, condition, legal use, space out front and what style the building is.

“We do want to account for current trends in the market, but we don’t want to be slaves to the market either,” Sawyer said.

Demands for different types of houses change with the market, Sawyer said. Where once “ranch” or “cape” style houses were in high demand, now houses with “antique features” seem to be increasing in value, he said. Lakefront properties are consistently in demand, he noted.

At a recent Town Council meeting, Sawyer showed examples of houses that had been previously assessed at half the amount they were sold for.

Sawyer went on to say that people who are currently assessed at higher than 65 percent of fair market value will likely see a decrease in their property taxes while residents assessed below the 65 percent mark will see an increase in their taxes.

Property tax reform advocate Lane Hiltunen is one Windham resident who has been negatively affected by the property assessment’s hinge to market value. He bought his property on Gray Road for $80,000, but when a developer bought the house next door, that price went up 28 percent.

“If some fool wants to buy a house for a half a million dollars across the street, that’s his problem,” Hiltunen said. “And when that affects me, I’m ripped,” he told the Windham Town Council Tuesday night.

Hiltenun said that people from out of state who purchase second homes in Maine are “driving up the cost” for Maine residents. With this in mind, he believes second homes should be assessed at market value while primary home owners should have their taxes capped like the state of Florida does.

Sawyer said it would be “unfair” to tax secondary homes more than primary Maine residents, but he does recognize that the whims of the market can be “aggressive” since they don’t account for the resident’s income.

“There are people who are caught in properties that have appreciated faster than they can pay the taxes,” Sawyer said.

For those people, Sawyer advises taking advantage of the Maine Residential and Rental Refund program, otherwise known as the “circuit breaker.” The state this year doubled the maximum rebate for that program and widened eligibility for the program. In past years, this program has been “highly under-utilized,” he said.

“The money’s there,” Sawyer said. “Some people might think that’s welfare, but it’s not. It’s a refund.”

Sawyer believes the assessing system works “pretty well” and notes that market value assessments are the standard for most states.

Sawyer and his assistant assessors will be putting all property information into a new database this fall and winter. The town may choose to put this information online as is done in other towns.

The assessment should be done by April 2006 and the new values should be set by May 2006 when notices will be mailed out to the public. No values or taxes will be finalized until next fall.

Residents who have questions, concerns or would like to set up a meeting time with the assessor to talk about the revaluation may call the tax assessor’s office at 892-1903.

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