August 25, 2007
The folks over in Casco were trying so hard to be sensible. When a town-wide revaluation indicated that many properties had tripled or quadrupled in value
, meaning that many property tax bills based on those new values would also skyrocket, the selectmen took a cue from the 250 local people who attended a public meeting on the issue and decided to hold off on accepting the revaluation. Instead, they based the tax bills on last year's property values - logical, given that the real estate market in Maine has not been showing much of an upward trend over the past twelve months.
But as seems to be so painfully common these days, sensibility doesn't always win, even in Maine. Shortly after the vote was taken, Casco Town Manager Dave Morton announced
that the selectmen didn't have the authority to shelve the revaluation. Morton says that power belongs to the town assessor, John O'Donnell - coincidentally the owner of the company hired to complete the town-wide study. You can bet it'll be crowded at the fire station in Casco when the selectmen meet on Tuesday to discuss just what to do. Anyone see a conflict of interest here?
If this were just Casco's problem, it'd be easy to brush it off as a small-town squabble, another battle between long-time residents and people from away. But Casco is hardly alone in this. In Guilford
, the same debate has flared up. In Lincolnville
, people are questioning just how their properties could seemingly overnight have gone from affordable to elite. Across Maine, towns are trying to keep pace with a state requirement that communities maintain valuations of at least 70 percent of market value, but in so doing they're running up against the cold reality of what Realtors have always known - your home is really only worth what someone actually pays for it. I think Corinna Tibbetts, of Guilford, summed up the feelings of many Mainers when she fought against a revaluation that claims even though a bank appraised her new home at $80,000 last year, it is now worth $136,400. "If you think you can get $136,400, you list it," she said.
The solution to all this, it seems to me, is so simple that one online commentor from Westbrook nailed it point-blank. "Our tax bill should be based solely on what we paid for the property/house. Any increases in taxes should only be limited to the rate of inflation. Period." Hey, why didn't I think of that? More importantly, why hasn't anyone in Augusta thought of it? (To be fair, we probably ought to establish a baseline of valuations as of a year or two ago, since some properties might not have sold for decades.) By insisting that our property tax bills keep pace with some fictitious value that can only be realized by Mainers selling their most prized possession, aren't we undermining the soul of what it means to be from Maine? Yes, such a commonsense solution would require us all to control our spending, whether we're sitting on a metal folding chair at the school board or in a big leather chair at the state Department of Health and Human Services. But how can we justify spending this money in the first place, if to get it means we have to force Mainers to abandon the homes and state that they love?
JOSHUA F. MOORE
Deputy Editor, prone to sobbing while paying bills of almost any kind