May 24, 2018
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Thomaston rejects request for tax break because of playhouse dispute

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

THOMASTON, Maine — A Thomaston doctor and his wife are embroiled in a dispute with the town over a two-story playhouse.

The couple — Dr. Edward and Sheila Harshman — are seeking an abatement on their property taxes for several reasons including what they claim is the former code enforcement officer’s actions in regard to the playhouse.

The Thomaston Board of Assessors, however, rejected the abatement request at its Tuesday meeting.

At issue is the two-story playhouse constructed last summer on the Harshmans’ Booker Street property. The Code Officer at the time, Pete Surek, approved a permit on July 12 for a 12-by-8-foot “portable playhouse.”

On Aug. 11, Town Assessors’ Agent David Martucci was inspecting the property to update assessment records in response to the building permit and took photographs of the playhouse. When the code officer saw the photos, he ruled that the two-story playhouse, with a second-floor deck, did not conform with the permit he issued.

Surek rescinded the permit on Aug. 29.

What followed was a series of letters and emails between the lawyer for the town and the Harshmans.

In a September letter from the Harshmans’ attorney, Andrews Campbell of Bowdoinham, the Harshsmans claimed the code officer had made it difficult for them during a prior renovation to a building on the property that was converted to a medical office. The couple also maintained that the code officer came into their waiting area for patients last year and acted inappropriately in voicing his concern about the playhouse.

In the couple’s property tax abatement application filed March 30, the Harshmans asked for their taxes to be cut by $800 per year to “offset code enforcement activity regarding playhouse at 33 Booker Street that can be expected to scare off business clients.” The application filed by the couple further claimed that the taxes are unreasonable because the Thomaston employee interfered with their business.

Surek, who retired earlier this month, said the allegations were false. He said Friday that he approved a permit for a small playhouse and the Harshmans went ahead and built something much larger. He said he also believes it was improperly built but he was not allowed on their property to inspect it.

He said he can’t understand why they would even raise such an issue for an abatement.

The couple also sought the abatement saying an appraisal of the property showed that the town assessment was too great. The couple wanted to reduce the valuations of their two adjoining properties from about $600,000 to about $360,000.

Martucci rejected the abatement requests on several grounds. With regard to the issue of the code officer’s action, Martucci stated in an April 2 letter to the Harshmans that there was no provision in law for an abatement for the reason given by the couple. He said this week that he had not been able to reach the Harshmans over their request and they did not attend the Tuesday hearing. The Board of Assessors voted Tuesday to uphold the assessor’s agent decision.

The appeal by the couple over the code officer’s rescinding of the building permit is unresolved. A hearing had been scheduled for last fall but the two sides agreed to postpone the matter.

The playhouse remains. On the second-story deck of the playhouse, a more than 6-foot long poster for Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is attached.

The couple can appeal the abatement rejection within 60 days with the Knox County Board of Assessment Review.

A telephone message was left for the Harshmans on Thursday morning and had not been returned by Friday. A telephone message also was left with their attorney on Friday afternoon.

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