CALAIS, Maine - It is that time of year when the city’s assessor looks closely at property values and adjusts them - usually upward - in order to keep the city in compliance with state laws.
For the past few months, assessor Lorna Thompson has been busy making changes and they will be reflected in this year’ s tax bills.
In a recent memo to the Calais City Council, Thompson said it was in the city’ s best interest for the assessed value of property to be at 100 percent of fair market value because that ratio was applied to some of the revenues the city received including homestead reimbursements.
Although the state does not mandate that a community assesses at 100 percent of fair market value, it does set standards, she said. The rule of thumb seems to be that if a community’ s ratio is close to 100 percent it is in good standing with the state.
Even though the assessor has made adjustments to property values in the past, the city’ s ratio remains at 80 percent of fair market value, the memo said.
“For this year, we have adjusted the land value throughout the city in an effort to improve the ratio,” Thompson said in her memo. “We have increased the cost schedule in the software as follows: waterfront land by 20 percent and all other land, except tree growth, up by 10 percent,” she wrote. Tree growth is adjusted under different rules. “The waterfront properties have received a greater adjustment since the five waterfront sales that occurred were substantially higher than our assessment,” she added.
In her memo, Thompson presented these figures:
A 3-acre lot with river frontage on St. Croix Drive sold for $90,000 in April. The estimated city value for this year was $76,700.
Last year a waterfront home on Bayview Lane sold for $285,000, while the estimated value for this year is $146,900.
Another house on Bayview Lane last year sold for $550,000, while the estimated valuation for this year is $300,500.
There have been multiple sales of a house on Spruce Street. In 2004, it sold for $137,500 and in 2006 for $147,000. The estimated valuation for this year is $106,700.
Some communities do not annually update their records, Thompson said, which often leads to a full-scale property revaluation. The assessor does not recommend that. “I would guess that at this point it would exceed $150,000 to do an entire [revaluation]. So it is really in our best interest to try and chug along and keep up with them and not have that large expenditure,” she said Wednesday.
City Manager Diane Barnes said Wednesday that changes in property valuation were needed, but the City Council was trying to help. “The City Council wants to decrease the mill rate this year by a quarter of a mill which will help offset the land value increase,” she said. “It won’ t wipe it out completely, but it will help with that so the taxpayers won’ t see that much of an increase when they get their tax bills.”
But property owners wonder about increased values when property sales Down East appear to be standing still. Thompson said that although the national real restate market was nothing but doom and gloom that was not true here. “Although it does appear that the marketing time has increased, the majority of sales are still exceeding the city’ s assessments, particularly waterfront,” she wrote.
In addition to changes in property value, the city also has begun to update its property records. Some of the pictures on the record cards in her office date back to the 1996 revaluation. So Thompson is taking pictures.
In the past 12 years, Thompson noted there have been improvements to some properties so she has sent letters to owners requesting a visit to update her records.
Most people agreed and she adjusted the value of their property appropriately others just ignored her letter and their property values were also adjusted appropriately.