November 18, 2019
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‘We’re being abused’: Golf course company owes Orono, 4 other towns overdue taxes, protests high bills

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
People play golf on Tuesday at the Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.

ORONO, Maine — The owner of Penobscot Valley Country Club said Tuesday that he makes a conscious choice not to pay property taxes on time in protest of the high tax bill the town charges.

The club on Route 2, featuring a historic 18-hole golf course and modern clubhouse, owes the town $137,396 in unpaid taxes dating back two years, according to tax records.

“We believe that we’re being overcharged,” said Jeff Harris, president of Bath-based Harris Golf Co., which purchased Penobscot Valley Country Club in 2007 for $3 million. “If you look back at the history since we bought it, it’s a pattern. We always pay the taxes before the liens mature.

“For us, it’s the normal course of action. It’s how we run our business,” Harris said later.

Harris Golf is a golf course developer, contractor and operator that owns or manages 10 courses in Maine, five that have past due tax bills, according to town officials.

The overdue taxes are owed at the Falmouth Country Club, Old Marsh Country Club in Wells, Sunday River Golf Club in Newry, Wilson Lake Country Club in Wilton and Penobscot Valley Country Club. The total owed is more than $500,000.

“Wherever we have a dispute on taxes, we pay them later [but] before the liens mature,” Harris said.

Officials confirmed Harris Golf’s taxes were up to date in the five other towns.

The year after Harris Golf took over the course in Orono, it restored the course to specifications created by famed architect Donald Ross. The first mortgage on the property was paid off in the spring this year, Harris said.

Company lawyers have had discussions “with the town in the past about getting this abated or reduced, and we’ve had no cooperation,” Harris said of the Orono property.

“We can’t get anywhere with these assessors,” Harris said later, of the towns where Harris Golf disputes the taxes. Orono assesses the Penobscot Valley Country Club property at $2,829,600.

That is why the property tax bills are paid late, he said.

“There is no rumor about it. It’s right in the annual report,” Orono Finance Director Matt Currier said Tuesday of the country club’s past-due tax bills. “Everything with municipalities, when it comes to property taxes, is all automatic. Anything not paid within the year is liened. Once a property goes into lien, there is an automatic foreclosure 18 months from that day, per state law.”

The automatic foreclosure for Penobscot Valley Country Club, which is listed under Penobscot Golf Holdings LLC, is scheduled for Dec. 3, the finance director said.

“We’ll be paying them before that date,” Harris said of the bill on the golf club, which first opened in 1924.

“We’re dealing with this in almost every town, and you can’t get anywhere with it,” Harris said. “We’ve been doing it this way for 20 years because we’re getting overtaxed. That is the only way we can get a vote — by dollars — holding them back. It is what it is, and the only thing you can do [to object] is withhold the money.

“It’s a very sore subject for me because we feel like we’re being abused,” he said.

Harris said the company brings an estimated $1 million in annual revenue to the town of Orono, “and we’re paying $67,000” per year in property taxes.

Town or city officials provided the following past-due property tax data for property owned or managed by Harris Golf:

— Falmouth Country Club in Falmouth: $168,601 for 2010 through 2013

and $16,198 in personal property taxes that have not been paid since 2010.

— Old Marsh Country Club in Wells: $66,094 in property and $5,605 in personal property.

— Sunday River Golf Club in Newry: $136,762 due with $94,112 past due from unpaid 2012 and 2013 property tax bills.

— Wilton Lake County Club in Wilton: $19,273 for the land and $2,907 for personal property.

— Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono: $137,396 for two years of back taxes.

 

Correction: In a previous version of this story, the Wilson Lake Country Club golf course was incorrectly referred to as the Wilton Lake Country Club.


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