Black Island land trust is denied tax reduction

Posted July 10, 2009, at 8:46 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:04 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — By a 2-1 vote, Hancock County commissioners decided this week to deny an abatement request to a private trust that owns an acre of land on Black Island in Frenchboro.

Dr. Paula Stone, trustee of Samsara Memorial Trust, had appealed to the commissioners for a $70,250 abatement on the value of the property, which the trust owns. Though the town had assessed the 1-acre oceanfront property at $103,250, Stone argued it should be valued at $33,000.

During a hearing held by commissioners Tuesday, Stone argued that Frenchboro officials unfairly tax property owners on the town’s more remote islands at a different rate than the one they use to determine property taxes on Long Island, where the town’s central village is located. Besides Long Island, Frenchboro also encompasses Placentia, Black, Little Duck and Great Duck islands.

Property owners on Frenchboro’s more remote islands carry an unfair tax burden compared to their neighbors on Long Island, according to Stone.

“You cannot apply double standards,” Stone said during the hearing, in which she participated by conference call. “You have to apply the same standards across the board.”

Stone told commissioners that in 2003, when the trust’s property and the house on it had a total assessed value of $25,000, the trust’s tax bill was $400. In 2006, the assessed value of the property had risen to nearly $100,000 and the resulting property tax bill from the town was for $1,900, she said.

“That’s what precipitated all of this,” Stone told the commissioners.

According to Cynthia Deprenger, Hancock County’s clerk, Stone resides in Searsport but was participating in the hearing remotely from Colorado.

Frenchboro officials, who appeared at the hearing in person, countered that they are using the same standard for all properties in Frenchboro. The reason the trust’s taxes are higher than a comparable property on Long Island, they said, is that properties on the town’s more remote islands are worth more.

“Every island is different,” Frenchboro Selectman Robert Stuart told the commissioners. “We know [properties on Black Island] are worth more because they sell for a lot more than a house on Long Island itself.”

Stuart acknowledged that none of the assessed values of properties in Frenchboro match their fair market values. Frenchboro has little in the way of town services, he said, and it is important to help keep local properties affordable for working families.

When Stuart asked Stone how much she had asked for the property when she recently had put it on the market, she said $425,000.

“I think we have treated Dr. Stone fairly,” Stuart told commissioners.

In 2003, Stone and her mother, Iolanda Ponte, were ordered by a federal judge to remove a concrete platform they had built on the property. Acadia National Park had sued them over the structure, which the park claimed was built 80 feet from the shore. A previous owner of the property had granted the park an easement that prohibits construction within 100 feet of the high tide line.

Deprenger said Friday that Commissioner Steve Joy voted Tuesday in favor of granting the abatement while Commissioners Fay Lawson and Percy “Joe” Brown did not.

The denial of Stone’s request clears the way for her to take the matter to Hancock County Superior Court, Deprenger said.

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