Thursday, April 3, 2003

Cape assessments to skyrocket

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth property owners with homes along the coast could see their property values triple, and other town residents could see their values nearly
double, when the town-wide revaluation process is completed in late April.

Town Assessor Matt Sturgis is in the final phase of number-crunching that will lead up to the revaluation report he will give to town councilors April 30. Notices of new assessments will go out the first week of May, and the tax rate based on the new property values will take effect in August, Sturgis said.

Those values will be higher across the board, he said. “The assessments on pretty much all properties are going up,” Sturgis said. The primary cause is
the increase in land values since 1994, the last time the entire town was reassessed.

Sturgis said his job does not have to do with setting the town’s tax rate, but making sure the tax load is spread fairly across all of the town’s property owners.

He is working to bring the assessed values of property in line with the market value. On waterfront properties, the valuation is now close to one-third the actual market worth, Sturgis said. Owners of inland property have values about 60 to 65 percent of market value, which means “people who do not have waterfront property are paying a disproportionate amount of taxes more than they should be,” Sturgis said.

When the valuations come out, homeowners will be able to discuss with Sturgis the amounts and possibly get them adjusted, though adjustments are based on value, not the property tax rate itself, Sturgis said.

Another problem for Cape homeowners could be the recent state budget, which lowered the homestead exemption from property tax. In the past, the property tax on the first $7,000 of value of a primary residence was paid by the state.

With the state budget enacted last week, the exemption was reduced for properties worth more than $125,000. Homes valued between $125,000 and $250,000 have $5,000 of their value exempted, and those worth more than $250,000 will only have $2,500 of value exempted.

Sturgis said that is a tax directed at Southern Maine. “How many houses do you know in Cumberland County that are worth under $125,000?” he asked, saying home values are lower in the northern part of the state.

That means Cape homeowners as a group will pay as much as $127,000 more in property tax that would previously have been picked up by the state, according to Town Manager Mike McGovern.

Last year, every homestead owner in town, 2,558 of them, received a tax discount of $158.48, regardless of the value of the home, Sturgis said. That money was paid to the town coffers by the state.

Now, people with homes worth more than $125,000 will save closer to $100, and people with homes worth more than $250,000 will only save $55 on their property tax.

It connects property value and ability to pay, Sturgis said. “That’s not fair and that’s not right,” he said.