May 27, 2018
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St. George sees flood of tax reduction requests

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

ST. GEORGE, Maine — More than 100 property owners here have filed for tax abatements after the town’s first revaluation in 15 years drove up some property values.

In a typical year, the town approves about 12 abatements. For 2010, 120 have been filed and 27 have so far been approved.

“It’s more than most years, because of the revaluation,” said Town Manager John Falla, leaning over the town hall counter.

The jump in abatement filings is exactly what the town expected, he said, adding that requests from about 4 percent of the 2,800 property owners in town is not an outrageous amount.

So far, the town’s assessors, who are the members of the Select Board, have looked at 65of the abatements filed, approved 27 of those and denied 31, with seven still pending. The remaining 55 will be reviewed Feb. 1 and 2, according to Assessing Clerk Cherie Yattaw.

State law required St. George to undertake a property revaluation in 2010 in order to more fairly divide the tax burden among property owners. As a result, the town’s total property value rose to $896 million, a 67 percent increase. Because of the redistribution of the tax burden, about half of the homeowners are seeing a decrease in their tax bills, but property owners in higher-valued areas, such as the waterfront, are seeing tax increases.

Select Board member Terence Driscoll said the board takes each application on a case-by-case basis. But he said all of the 58 applications the board has taken care of so far were filed because of the revaluation.

Michael O’Shea is an owner of the Craignair Inn, a 20-room seaside hotel with a restaurant. He and his wife paid about $1 million when they closed on the property on May 23. Three weeks later, the town’s assessors deemed the property worth $1.35 million.

When the Bangor Daily News reported in July that O’Shea’s tax bill jumped about $2,600, the board of assessors approached him and lowered the taxes on his main building by more than $2,000 without his having to file for an abatement, O’Shea said last week.

“We made enough stink that people started paying attention,” O’Shea said.

But he believed the taxes on another of the inn’s buildings was unfair and filed an abatement in November. He hasn’t heard back.

O’Shea said the town needs to revaluate more frequently.

“Let’s not gouge everyone every 15 years. Let’s have a standard and do this more often,” he said. “I hope it gets better.”

Gayle Bedigian, who owns waterfront property she inherited, said she faces an additional $2,000 on her tax bill after revaluation doubled the value since the last assessment. Bedigian and her husband would file an abatement, but their neighbors didn’t have much luck, so Bedigian decided not to file for an abatement.

“My husband went through our numbers and felt we had no chance,” she said.

The town’s manager confirmed that waterfront properties tended to be the ones that increased in value faster than inland properties.

Bedigian said she is worried that the high waterfront values will shift the culture of the peninsula town if fishermen and local families can no longer afford the homes. Maybe only rich summer residents will be able to live on the water, she said.

Bill Reinhardt, who chairs the Select Board and the town’s board of assessors, said many of the abatements his board has reviewed have been on shorefront properties. He did not find the large number of abatement applications odd, considering it was a revaluation year.

When asked if the town was likely to wait another 15 years before doing another revaluation, Reinhardt said it was possible, depending on how the town’s values compare to the state’s regulations.

“I think if we were getting into the same situation before 15 years, we would do [a revaluation] again, but it’s expensive,” he said.

St. George paid $165,000 for the latest revaluation.

Falla said the due date to pay 2010 tax bills will be set at town meeting March 8.

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