Stockton Springs, condominium owners group at odds over $6.4 million lawsuit

Posted May 30, 2011, at 2:14 p.m.

STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — The 64 owners of The Village at Stockton Harbor condominium complex live off the Cape Jellison Road in homes that overlook the water, have access to a heated pool and enjoy close proximity to walking trails and boat moorings.

They’re also overtaxed by the town of Stockton Springs to the tune of $6.4 million, according to documents in a pending civil lawsuit that were recently filed at Waldo County Superior Court. In those documents, the Village at Stockton Harbor Condominium Association is requesting the right to appeal the individual condominium owners’ property tax valuations.

However, there is a fundamental disagreement over whether or not the association is even allowed to make this abatement request on behalf of its members in the first place.

Joe Hayes, the manager for the town of about 1,500 people, said last week that the Stockton Springs Board of Assessment Review denied the group’s abatement request.

“The Village at Stockton Harbor Condominium Association applied on behalf of their 64 owners,” Hayes said, adding that the association desired a $100,000 tax abatement on each property. “But the question arrived — [is the association] a taxpayer?”

The association does not receive a tax bill, town attorney Bill Kelly stated in a March 23 meeting of the Board of Assessment Review.  The association’s name is not on any deed. And after an hour-and-a-half of debate during the meeting, much of which occurred between Kelly and the plaintiff’s attorney, Aaron Fethke, the review board’s answer was no.

The association does not have legal standing, the board decided, and therefore denied its right to appeal the town’s property tax assessment.

Fethke disagreed, arguing at the meeting that there are two ways in which the group has legal standing. The first is ownership, he said.

While individual condominium owners are taxed for the land underneath their building, the exterior, the living and common areas, the interior, ceiling, walls, floor and basement, the association owns all other property rights, he said. Those include “the air about and around” the properties, according to the meeting’s minutes.

Additionally, the association has legal authority and standing because the unit owners voted by supermajority at their annual meeting last summer to pursue the abatement, according to the attorney.

“Fethke went on to say that as far as standing is concerned, his clients have crossed their T’s and dotted their I’s,” the minutes for the meeting stated.

Bob Hanish, a representative of the association, said the town has overvalued the properties and the state valuation can “emphatically show” that the condos are overtaxed.

Representatives from the association declined last week to speak to the BDN or have their attorney do so in the interest of preserving good relationships with the town.

Efforts to speak with Kelly on the matter also were unsuccessful.

According to the most recently filed document in the Village at Stockton Harbor Condominium Association’s lawsuit against Stockton Springs, the association is requesting a June 22 deadline for the filing of its legal brief.

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