Scarborough coastal property owners sue town, seek refund of $550,000 in taxes

Posted Jan. 15, 2014, at 3:05 p.m.

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — More than three dozen coastal property owners sued the town of Scarborough on Tuesday to roll back their 2012 taxes.

If they are successful, their tax abatements could cost the town more than half a million dollars.

The lawsuit, filed in Portland on behalf of 37 Higgins Beach and Pine Point property owners, asks the Maine Superior Court to vacate a Dec. 17, 2013, Board of Assessment Review decision upholding the 2012 land valuations and order the board to grant tax abatements.

Town Manager Tom Hall on Wednesday said the Town Council will decide if the lawsuit will be contested.

In the nine-page court complaint, attorney Jon Shumadine of Portland-based Murray, Plumb & Murray said the board decision last month was “arbitrary, capricious, legally erroneous and wholly unsupported by the evidence in the record.”

The board rejected 43 Pine Point and Higgins Beach appeals in its decision, but plaintiff Don Petrin, of River Sands Drive, said six appellants did not proceed with the court case for economic reasons.

“Many just can’t afford to continue to fight the tax assessor’s discrimination,” Petrin said.

Discrimination is the allegation at the heart of Shumadine’s appeal. He argued that former Town Assessor Paul Lesperance unfairly targeted waterfront and “water-influenced” properties in the 2012 revaluation of 754 properties and subsequent assessment increases on 279 of them.

Owners of 94 residential properties appealed, and some are still pending. The board is expected to decide on appeals from 22 Prout’s Neck property owners on Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 6:30 p.m. Those appeals have been handled by attorneys Jon Block and Bill Dale.

With the legal tab approaching $100,000 and Councilor Ed Blaise suggesting the town needs an independent revaluation because of inequities.

Hall said he expects councilors to review the appeals and documents in an executive session.

He said he appreciated the council letting the local appeals play out, but said a decision in favor of the plaintiffs in court, or even a decision not to defend the suit, has wider implications because abatements could be granted to every appellant, even if they are not plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Last month, Hall said the appeals involved about $40 million in valuations and $550,000 in potential tax refunds.

“The practical effect on us is much greater,” Hall said.

In an appeal to councilors to get involved, Petrin noted the lawsuit will not reopen the entire appeal process or review the methods used by Lesperance, who retired last April and now serves on a per-diem basis as a special deputy assessor during the appeal process.

“We trust that you will look at the complete record firsthand and come to your own conclusion as to whether what transpired was fair,” Petrin said. “This council has the opportunity to stop the continued wasteful spending of hard-earned tax dollars to defend this tax assessor.”

Lesperance said his revaluations were based on sales data indicating town assessments were not in line with market values and that waterfront areas had not been harmed by the recession in 2008.

The last full revaluation of town properties was conducted in 2005.

Shumadine claimed the increases of as much as 25 percent on land values were unsupported by sales data and based on outdated data.