SCARBOROUGH — Town officials set the fiscal 2020 tax rate on Tuesday after making sweeping adjustments to property assessments in two neighborhoods where residents decried the recent results of the first townwide revaluation in 14 years.

Mimi Lemelin, left, and Judith Comeau were upset that Scarborough’s property revaluation more than doubled the assessments on their homes in the Hillcrest Retirement Community. Comeau said Tuesday that she was glad to see her new assessment had dropped 32 percent, but it might not be enough to keep her from seeking an abatement. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Town Assessor David Bouffard and KRT Appraisal, the Massachusetts firm that did the revaluation, reduced property assessments in the Hillcrest Retirement Community, the Higgins Beach neighborhood and elsewhere by about $48 million overall before the town committed to new property values and set the tax rate.

As a result of the revaluation, the town’s total valuation increased by about $700 million, or 17 percent, from $4.1 billion to $4.8 billion, according to budget documents filed with Maine Revenue Services.

Hillcrest resident Judith Comeau was glad to see the new assessment on her 4-year-old modular home had dropped from $229,900 to $157,451, but that 32 percent reduction might not be enough to keep her from seeking an abatement. Comeau’s home had been assessed at $107,900 before the revaluation.

“It would have been better if it had gone up a little each year,” Comeau said Tuesday. “I’m waiting to get my tax bill to decide whether I go for an abatement or not.”

Tax bills will be mailed Sept. 16, said Town Manager Tom Hall. The new tax rate for fiscal 2020, which started July 1, is $14.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That’s $1.79, or 11 percent, less than the fiscal 2019 tax rate of $16.49 per $1,000.

Using Comeau’s property as an example, and reducing her previous and current assessments by $20,000 for the Homestead Exemption, the annual tax bill on her two-bedroom, two-bathroom home on a leased lot would increase by $563, or 39 percent, from $1,451 to $2,014.

Comeau is among hundreds of Scarborough residents who are upset since the town conducted a long-delayed comprehensive revaluation in a hot real estate market. State law requires that municipalities make sure assessments closely reflect market values so property taxes are distributed equitably. Theoretically, if some homeowners pay less in taxes because their properties are undervalued, then other homeowners pay more than their fair share.

To address widespread complaints by Hillcrest residents, the assessor reduced assessments on 302 homes in the retirement community by 17 percent across the board, Hall said. That percentage represents the total assessed value of land as a portion of the overall development, which is $6.7 million and is owned by the operator of the community, he said.

The assessor also gave all homes in the community an “average” rating, adjusting assessments on properties that previously had higher or lower quality ratings, Hall said.

“The new value reflects a change in building grade that our assessor believes better reflects the homes in Hillcrest,” Hall wrote in a letter to Hillcrest homeowners. The new value also recognizes “the fact that you do not own the land on which your home sits,” he wrote.

For 300 homes in the Higgins Beach neighborhood, the assessor removed KRT’s consideration of ocean views and reduced assessments 10 percent across the board, Hall said. Town officials checked KRT’s assessments neighborhood by neighborhood and determined that the firm’s assessments in the beach area were 110 percent of market value based on recent sales.

Hall said town officials are considering various ways to avoid such long and disruptive delays in future revaluations. 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. After the town released initial revaluation results last month, KRT staffers met with nearly 900 homeowners to discuss their concerns.

Final revaluation results, including adjusted assessments, have been posted on the assessor’s page of the city’s website and will be incorporated into the Vision online database as soon as possible, Hall said.

Homeowners who have questions about their assessments or want to pursue abatements may schedule appointments with the assessor by calling 730-4060.

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