The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday saved Old Town from having to refund nearly $1 million in property taxes to a former pulp mill owner when justices unanimously settled a yearslong dispute between the two.
The six-year legal fight between Expera Specialty Solutions and the city landed before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court after a series of appeals over the state Board of Property Review’s granting of a tax abatement to the company.
Expera — which purchased the mill from Old Town Fuel & Fiber in 2014 — argued that the city assessed the mill’s taxable value at more than what the property was actually worth. The company sought a property tax refund of close to $1 million, which the city denied.
Maine’s high court concluded that the city did not assess the mill in 2014 and 2015 for more than its “just value,” and that Expera had failed to meet its burden of showing that the tax assessments were manifestly wrong.
Representatives for Old Town and Expera did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Expera Specialty Solutions, based in Wisconsin, bought the mill property for $10.5 million in a December 2014 bankruptcy sale and restarted operations soon after. Expera’s operation was short-lived, however. It had closed the mill back down by the end of 2015 and later sold the property to a liquidator for $2.5 million.
In 2014, the city assessed the mill’s value for that year at about twice the $10.5 million sale price.
The city then assessed the mill at about $30 million for 2015, when Expera had restarted operations.
Expera, however, argued that the mill was only worth $7.3 million. After the city denied Expera’s request for a reduction in valuation, the mill owner brought the matter before the Maine State Board of Property Review, which also denied the tax abatement request.
Expera then appealed the board’s decision in Superior Court, which sent the dispute back to the board. Overturning its original decision, the board then ruled in favor of the company.
Superior Court Justice William Anderson upheld the new ruling last June, after the city petitioned for a review.
The city appealed Anderson’s decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, arguing that the lower court made a mistake in vacating the board’s initial ruling.
The current taxable value of the mill property, which has restarted under the ownership of ND Paper, is about $27 million, City Assessor Travis Roy said earlier this year.