SCARBOROUGH, Maine — More than 40 property owners in Higgins Beach and Pine Point must wait until Dec. 10 for a formal decision on appeals of their property tax assessments from 2012.
But it seemed likely they will lose those appeals after a Board of Assessment Review meeting that lasted less than an hour Tuesday.
“We had to look at the whole assessment. It was not discriminatory, in my opinion,” Chairman Alan Peoples said of the work by former Tax Assessor Paul Lesperance.
The appeals were filed by waterfront and “water-influenced” property owners who saw assessed land values increase by 17 percent to 25 percent, depending on where they live.
The increases accurately reflected market values that withstood the 2008 recession, according to Lesperance and attorney Robert Crawford, who represented him.
John Shumadine, the attorney hired by the 43 Higgins Beach and Pine Point appellants, who were heard as one case over several months of hearing and testimony, said Lesperance arbitrarily and unfairly discriminated against his clients as a way to bolster tax revenues for the fiscal year 2013 budget.
Shumadine and Crawford did not speak during the meeting, but each presented their argument in briefs filed after the Oct. 27 board meeting, where Shumadine fully presented the appellants’ case against the town.
Board attorney Durward Parkinson said he will draft findings of fact to be incorporated into the decision. He cautioned Peoples and board members Kathy Fuente, John Dupont and Christopher Herrick not to discuss the findings in advance of their Dec. 10 meeting.
He also asked them to bring their own input. “Whatever I come up with is just a draft for you to look at,” Parkinson said. “I’m merely acting as your scribe.”
Denial of the appeal could be contested in Maine Superior Court. Appeals to the board by about another 50 Prout’s Neck residents are still pending.
Appellant Don Petrin of River Sands Drive said in an email Wednesday the result does not surprise him.
“Last night’s deliberations, though disappointing, were very much as expected,” he said, noting the relationship between the board and the assessor.
“It is not to say that it is not possible to come to a just decision, but the process is clearly stacked against any appellant, more so one advocating discrimination,” he said.
Dupont and Herrick said the required burden of proof to establish discrimination was never fully established.
“I kept finding myself saying, there is nothing there that was indisputable, that the [town] didn’t have a reason for,” Herrick said.
In hearings that began in August, Lesperance said he examined ratios between market and town assessment values for 754 properties in 2012. He reduced assessments on 475 of them.
The 754 properties had ratios between 70 percent and 80 percent between assessed and market value, and Crawford summarized the revaluation as a way to bring the values to an even par while also improving the quality rating assigned by the Maine Revenue Service.
In his appeal summary, Shumadine said the quality rating was invalid because it was not a full measure of the accuracy of town assessments and Lesperance relied on outdated sales data in waterfront areas to increase property assessments.
Shumadine also criticized the overall town ratios between assessments and market values as illusory because about 40 percent of the 6,500 residences in town do not fall within the state guideline of 10 percent differential.
In July, before the hearings began, Petrin and Al Timpson of Spurwink Road presented their concerns about the 2012 revaluation to Mike Rogers of the Maine Revenue Service.
Rogers wrote an audit review of Lesperance’s work and methods that backed up the assessor’s practices. Shumadine eventually criticized the review, noting it included sales data Lesperance had not used, but his complaints carried little weight with Dupont and Fuente.
“You are asking us to ignore portions of the findings,” Dupont said. “I can’t do that.”
Fuente said including additional sales data helped give a fuller picture of market conditions in the waterfront areas.
“It made a big impact in my opinion of all this data,” she said. “It did prove that yes, this is trending in that direction.”