Jo Coyne, photographed Sunday, lives in the West End of Portland. She said her two-unit property on Salem Street increased in value by 146 percent in the latest revaluation. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Some owners of homes of the Portland peninsula, especially the East End, have seen their property values double or triple as a result of the city’s first revaluation in 15 years.

Residents began receiving their new property assessments last week, and City Assessor Christopher Huff said he immediately began fielding phone calls from upset and panicked homeowners.

“The absolute worst ones are from seniors who have aged in place and you’re hearing their struggles,” Huff said. “They’re some of the hardest ones to take.”

As of last week, more than 540 residents requested an informal hearing to appeal their new values. Those informal hearings must be scheduled by July 21, Huff said. People will begin paying their new tax bills this fall.

The revaluation is taking place as home prices are soaring in Portland and the state in general. While many Portlanders will see their tax burden fall because of the revaluation, the fiercely competitive real estate market and spiking tax assessments in some neighborhoods is expected to make it difficult for others to stay in their homes. And while they could sell their homes for a high price, there are few places for them to go, especially if they’re looking for something affordable in the city.

Sandy Flanagan, 75, has lived on Munjoy Hill since 1975. She was barely able to hold on after the city’s last revaluation, when her tax bill increased sixfold. She’s not sure she will be able to weather this round, which resulted in her two-unit Waterville Street property value nearly doubling and her property tax projected to increase by nearly 65 percent, or $4,124 a year.

“It might as well be a million dollars because I don’t have that kind of money,” said Flanagan, who lives on a fixed income and still has a mortgage. “It’s devastating. I don’t usually cry, but I have been crying about this.”

To determine the new values, the city’s consultant, Tyler Technologies, looked at 45 months of sales data, from April 1, 2017, through Dec. 30, 2020, to determine full market values of more than 22,400 residential and commercial properties as of April 1.

The new median assessed value of a home in Portland is now estimated to be $365,000 – an increase of 52 percent over the previous median of $240,000.

Revaluations do not increase overall revenues to the city because the total amount of property taxes needed to be raised is set by the city budget. As a result, the overall increase in the city’s property values is expected to lower the property tax rate by 42 percent, from $23.31 per $1,000 of assessed value to a projected rate of $13.49 once the new assessments are in place. That rate will likely drop further because the state budget includes more aid for education and municipal services, some of which is being targeted for tax relief.

The overall citywide valuation – including both residential and commercial properties – is increasing 77 percent. That means taxpayers who see property values increase by more than 77 percent will also see their tax bills increase. Those with property values that increased by less than that will see their tax burden decrease.

While it is already clear that neighborhoods on the peninsula saw dramatic increases in home values, the city will not be conducting a neighborhood-level analysis until the appeals process is over and the tax rolls are committed later this year, Huff said.

Karen Snyder, a data migration specialist who lives on Munjoy Hill, has been comparing neighborhood impacts by looking at a sampling of properties in each council district. She said that type of analysis is meant only to get an initial understanding of the data set, rather than draw any firm conclusions.

In District 1, which includes the East End of the peninsula, her sample shows that tax bills are up an average of 58 percent. That’s followed by District 2, which includes the West End, with a 30 percent average increase among the properties she reviewed. Taxes will go up much less in the off-peninsula properties Snyder reviewed: 11 percent in District 3, 8.7 percent in District 4 and 4 percent in District 5, she said.

The East End of the city, including Munjoy Hill and East Bayside, appears to have had some of the sharpest increases in property values. But even there, the impact can vary widely.

Property values on Waterville Street in the Munjoy Hill neighborhood increased by a range of 39 percent to 231 percent, while tax increases were as high as 91 percent, according to city data showing the new and old assessed values. However, six properties on Waterville Street could see decreases, including one tiny parcel with a utility shed projected to drop by 19 percent.

Wayne Valzania stands outside of his home on Munjoy Hill on Saturday. Valzania, who is president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association, has been restoring the historic home for years. He saw his property value increase 275 percent in Portland’s revaluation and his tax bill more than doubled – the fifth highest increase on his street. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Wayne Valzania, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, said many residents are in shock about their new property values and projected tax bills. The 72-year-old master craftsman and his wife, a creative writer, saw their Merrill Street home value jump 275 percent and their property tax bill increase by 116 percent, or $6,170 a year.

Property values on Merrill Street increased by a range of 35 percent to 297 percent, while tax increases were as high as 130 percent. On the other hand, six properties are projected to see tax decreases.

Valzania fears the revaluation will force many older residents and working-class families to sell their properties and move off the peninsula. And landlords will likely increase rents, affecting renters as well.

“I guess it’s great to be wealthy on paper, but the reality is we’re just a bunch of working-class people out here working and trying to pay a mortgage,” Valzania said. “That’s a major hit and it’s going to force people to leave.”

West End residents are also taking a hit.

Jo Coyne, a retired teacher in her 70s, said her two-unit property on Salem Street, where she lives, increased in value by 146 percent, with a projected tax increase of 42 percent or nearly $3,125 a year. She expected that she would be among the residents to see her property values rise, but not by that much.

“I wasn’t expecting 146 percent,” Coyne said. “That’s just beyond the pale for me.”

Wayne Valzania outside of his home on Munjoy Hill on Saturday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Property value increases on Salem Street ranged from 35 percent to 420 percent, with tax impacts ranging from a 22 percent decrease to a 200 percent increase.

Residents in Parkside, meanwhile, seem to be taking solace in the fact that they’re not living in the East End. Comments in the Parkside Neighborhood Association Facebook group point out the sharp increases in the East End and indicate that some residents believe their new tax bills are fair.

“It was something that was expected – I think people are resigned,” PNA President Emma Holder, a massage therapist and fitness instructor, said in an interview. “I haven’t seen anybody outwardly upset.”

Holder’s Mellen Street condo increased in value by 168 percent, resulting in a projected 55 percent, or $1,110 a year, increase in taxes. Another condo she owns on Grant Street increased in value by 125 percent, resulting in a projected tax increase of 30 percent, or $765 a year.

As a whole, property values on Grant Street in the Parkside neighborhood increased by a range of 73 percent to 317 percent, with projected property tax increases ranging from 3 percent to 141 percent. And on Mellen Street, values rose by a range of 34 percent to 183 percent, with projected tax increases ranging from 4 percent to 64 percent, though four properties were projected to see decreases.

The Maine Constitution requires communities to conduct a general revaluations of properties at least every 10 years, but the deadline is rarely enforced. Revaluations are also triggered under state law when properties in a city or town are valued at less than 70 percent of their overall market values.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder, who took office in 2019, said the city should be conducting revaluations more frequently so the shifts are not so drastic. In June, the City Council passed a resolution calling for future revaluations every five years, though it does not bind future councils to the timeline.

“We can’t commit future councils to budget allocations, but we can say our intent is to do this work much more frequently,” Snyder said. “Nobody ever intended to wait 15 years this time around.”

Snyder’s home in the off-peninsula Oakdale neighborhood increased in value by 60 percent, but her property tax bill is expected to drop by more than 7 percent, or $518 a year. Of the seven councilors who own property, four of them are projected to pay less in taxes, while three are projected to pay more.

City Councilor Belinda Ray, who lives in East Bayside, will see the highest increase. The value of her property on East Oxford Street increased by 152 percent and her tax bill increased by 46 percent, or $1,609 a year.

“It’s steep, but it’s what I expected,” Ray said. “My property has been undervalued for years.”

Sarah Neuts’ home on Saugus Street in the Riverton neighborhood doubled in value, leading to a projected tax increase of 24 percent, or $960 a year. Her son saw a similar increase in value on his property, but his tax bill is projected to increase by nearly $1,300 a year. Neuts, a nurse, said her family will be able to absorb the increased taxes for now, although her son will likely need to increase rent on his tenant.

But at age 60, Neuts said she’s nearing retirement and questions her future in the city, as well as worrying about others who saw larger increases in their tax bills.

“Everyone I know except for one person had an increase,” Neuts said. “I would love to stay in Portland and I want my kids to stay in Portland. It’s unfortunate that some people’s bills have gone up so much.”


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