Mimi Lemelin, 87, left, and Judith Comeau, 77, are upset that a recent townwide property revaluation more than doubled the assessments on their modular homes in the Hillcrest Retirement Community in Scarborough. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

SCARBOROUGH — Janet and Stan Gilbert were stunned when they opened the letter and saw the impact of the first townwide property revaluation in 14 years.

The assessed value of their 2-year-old manufactured home in the Hillcrest Retirement Community – a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a cozy gas fireplace – had more than doubled, from $121,600 in 2018 to 270,600 in 2019.

Janet Gilbert recalled her reaction as the couple left Town Hall on Thursday, after a brief meeting with a representative of KRT Appraisal, an independent consulting firm from Haverhill, Massaschusetts, that did the revaluation.

“It was like sticker shock,” Gilbert said. “We assumed our assessment would go up. We didn’t expect that much of an increase.”

The Gilberts are among hundreds of Scarborough residents who are reeling since the town conducted a long-delayed comprehensive revaluation amid a hot housing market. State law requires municipalities to make sure assessments closely reflect market values so property taxes are distributed equitably. And other Maine cities and towns are facing the same challenge.

The Gilberts immediately tried to calculate how, on their fixed incomes, they might cover a $2,000 increase in their annual property tax bill. They’re hoping KRT will reduce the assessment on their modular home before tax bills go out, but there’s no guarantee.

“We can starve for a couple months,” Stan Gilbert said, half-joking. “That’s a big jump in one shot. We’ll see how it goes.”

The Gilberts might be luckier than other residents who are seeking answers and adjustments in the wake of widespread assessment increases resulting from the first revaluation of 8,800 residential properties since 2005. KRT revalued 900 commercial and industrial properties in Scarborough last year.

KRT is expected to adjust property values assigned to about 300 homes in the retirement community off Route 1, where the consultants apparently failed to consider that Hillcrest residents lease rather than own their small house lots. Some new property values in the Higgins Beach area also appear to be flawed and will be adjusted.

Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Town Manager Tom Hall said he couldn’t explain how the errors occurred in the Hillcrest and Higgins Beach neighborhoods, but the town is committed to correcting them.

Still, many residents will have to reckon with assessment increases that make up for more than a decade without an overall adjustment amid steadily rising real estate prices, Hall said.

“The process is working exactly as it’s designed,” Hall said. “The vast majority of the assessments are appropriate. We’ve all benefited from a robust real estate market. We’ve got two areas of town we’re looking at further. We expect adjustments to be made, but that doesn’t mean we have widespread problems.”

That’s little consolation to Kat Powers, who saw the assessment on her 5-year-old, three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch on Fairfield Road increase 39 percent, from $252,900 to $352,600. Powers said she paid $319,000 for the property in 2015.

Meanwhile, Powers pointed out, the assessment on a much larger Colonial-style home that she once owned on Turnberry Circle increased only 19 percent, and the assessment on a multimillion-dollar home in the waterfront Prouts Neck neighborhood decreased 22 percent.

Hall said such differences illustrate how a townwide revaluation, based on recent sales and applied to all neighborhoods, restores fairness to property assessments and the distribution of the tax burden.

“I understand the process is supposed to be fair,” Powers said, “but I feel like we’re being penalized.”

Hall emphasized that a revaluation doesn’t generate more tax revenue for the town; it simply redistributes the tax burden more equitably. To avoid such a large increase for so many people in the future, he said, the town should hold more frequent revaluations.

Similar revaluations are underway in Portland, Falmouth and Westbrook. It’s been 13 years since Portland, now amid a building boom, updated property values citywide. Falmouth officials hope they’ll avoid sticker shock because they’ve made minor adjustments to property assessments since their last revaluation in 2009. And Westbrook is doing its own revaluation, using computer software that updates property values based on market and neighborhood trends.

The conflict in Scarborough isn’t unexpected. In 2014, town voters soundly rejected – 6,715 to 3,088 – a bond issue to borrow $440,000 for a townwide revaluation of both residential and commercial properties.

Four years later, Maine Revenue Services notified the town that the state’s mass appraisal estimate of all taxable properties in Scarborough had fallen to 86 percent of market value, threatening to reduce the town’s share of state revenues.

Town officials subsequently budgeted $66,000 to reassess 900 commercial and industrial properties last year and $360,000 to reassess 8,800 residential properties this year. Hall said the goal is to reach 97 percent of market value overall, with the ideal being 100 percent.

Hall said he’s confident that the bulk of revaluations reflect the price residents would get if they put their homes on the market today. Over the last eight months, KRT staffers tried to visit every residence and successfully inspected about half of them, he said.

Still, since Aug. 7, three to five KRT staff members have been meeting daily with individual homeowners who have questions or concerns about their new assessments, scheduling 15-minute sessions from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Town Hall.

By Friday, KRT staffers had met with about 10 percent of residential taxpayers – nearly 900 homeowners –and would be finalizing revaluation results to be announced by Hall later this week, he said. The town must set its tax rate by the end of August and send out tax bills soon thereafter.

While many residents have higher property assessments, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll have higher tax bills. Hall said the tax rate, which is currently $16.49 per $1,000 of assessed property value, is expected to drop 12 percent to 14 percent, or $1.97 to $2.31.

Homeowners will still be able to contest new values through the traditional abatement process. Because so many residents are questioning their assessments, town councilors are talking about reducing interest penalties on unpaid taxes this year.

Mimi Lemelin and Judith Comeau hope to avoid the abatement process. They each met with KRT representatives to question the new assessments on their 4-year-old modular homes in the Hillcrest Retirement Community. Both are on leased lots. Both assessments increased from about $110,000 to about $230,000.

“I was really surprised and a little bit angry, to tell you the truth,” Lemelin said. “It just didn’t seem fair.”

If KRT doesn’t significantly adjust Hillcrest assessments, Comeau said, “some of us are going to be taxed right out of our homes.”


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