May 30, 2020

Assessment Review Board denies abatement at Brewer

The Brewer Board of Assessment Review Monday night denied a request by Walter Campbell for a tax abatement based on unfair assessment of his Silk Street home.

A dissenting member of the board described the group as “hanging judges” and said that the board had acted to support the assessor, not to provide an unbiased forum.

Campbell was the fourth owner of a 1 1/2-story Cape-style home to be denied such a request since the board was appointed last year. Cape homes were categorized last year as 1 1/2-story homes, rather than one-story houses with finished or unfinished attics. The change caused some homeowners to question assessment practice in the city but few of 512 owners of Capes filed appeals from the assessor’s decisions.

Campbell told the board that his home did not have dormers or a “dustpan,” yet was valued on the same basis as those 1 1/2-story homes that had such additions. Repeatedly, Campbell and Board Member Charles Butera asked Assessor Kathleen Martin if dormers or dustpans increased the value of a property. Martin said, after asking if Butera referred to market or assessed value, that they increased values.

A valuation increase of 12.5 percent on Campbell’s home was compared with others as low as five percent on homes of similar size but with dormers. Apparently, when homes were reclassified as 1 1/2-story dwellings, only the number of stories was considered as an assessing tool and reference to dormers or other additions to space was deleted. Yet, Campbell said, at least one other property owner who had dormers was taxed for the addition to the upper story. That, too, he said, was unfair and indicated an unequal assessment practice.

The board majority voted against the abatement, saying that Campbell had not demonstrated that he had been “singled out” for different treatment than owners of similar homes.

Voting for abatement were Butera and James Coldwell. Voting against the abatement were William Rogers, chairman; Mark Gibson and Joseph Coffin.

Coffin said that there was some inequity in assessment but that minute errors were to be expected. He said that assessment should be treated in a “broad brush” fashion and that if there are inequities in the system, a study should be done to correct them. The board majority agreed that Martin had eliminated some unfair practices of the past.

Butera said before the board vote was taken that the board acted improperly to support the assessor. “We’re here to serve the City of Brewer, not the asessor.” He said that 500 homeowners had been singled out for unfair treatment, not just Campbell or those who had filed appeals.

After the meeting, Butera said that the board members who voted against the abatement apparently had made decisions before hearing all the evidence and had acted as supporters of the assessor, not as an unbiased group weighing evidence.

Martin said that her revaluation of the 512 homes had eliminated an inequity in which some homeowners with finished second stories had been underassessed for many years. She said that market figures showed that assessed values of 1 1/2-story homes had dropped to 64 and 69-percent of fair market values, while other assessments of homes in the city were at 72-percent.

Gibson said that he was not happy with the issue of usable floor space, what Campbell had used to compare various homes, but that Martin’s assessment should be supported.

Butera, in summing his opinion, said that board had acted as “hanging judges.” “Nobody will win this case,” he said of the board’s majority opinion.

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