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Posted on: October 6, 2017

Recent Increases in the Valuation of Many Belfast Properties

Re: Recent increases in the valuation of many Belfast properties

From: Joe Slocum, City Manager, Brent Martin, City Assessor

Date: October 6, 2017

The following information is pulled from Maine statutes and case law to describe the process undertaken by the City Assessor this year.

The Constitution requires us to "fairly and equitably" apportion the property taxes.  All taxes upon real and personal property are to be apportioned and assessed equally according to the just value thereof.  Just value is essentially market value. Market values (what actual properties are selling for in actual arms length transactions) are the measuring stick for all property valuations in Maine.

To keep values fair to all, we need to adjust our values of property when the sustained evidence in the market place tells us that actual property sales are selling for prices that are significantly different from the City's published valuation.  The State audits all communities for this and helps us see when adjustments need to be made.

Then we have to adjust local values to make sure that the percentage of difference between the valuations in one neighborhood and their respective market sales in one part of the City, is similar to that of other parts of the City.  It is not equitable for one section of a municipality to be valued at 70% of market value while other parts of the same community are valued at 92% of their market value.  That would cause the higher percentage neighborhood to pay a disproportionally (and therefore an inequitable) higher part of the property tax bill.

When assessment values, in relation to market values, become too low either in the municipality overall or within certain areas of the municipality, then, in order to be fair and equitable, adjustments to those assessed values must be made.

This update revaluation of property values was unfortunately long overdue.  Many Belfast land values had not been adjusted upward in almost 13 to 14 years.  There is a variety of market conditions and staff shortages that led to this.

Because the market in certain areas of Belfast has moved so dramatically and so swiftly for a sustained period, the assessing office began to equalize the most readily identifiable areas, assuming the adjustments to the areas would result in an equal apportionment of taxes with those areas not adjusted.  This was a complex task which, upon completion, resulted in our ability to certify at 100% of market value with the State of Maine.

For most of the City, the large property value adjustments have been made.  They will
see smaller more gradual changes in the future as market conditions warrant.

Even though we openly talked about this process for the last two years including long written publications in Manager Reports, newspaper coverage and discussions during meetings and budget hearings we regretfully took way to many taxpayers by surprise with this effort.

As City Manager I take personal responsibility if the news of your property valuation
increase and the property tax increase came as a surprise to you.  In hindsight I should have written every taxpayer a letter.

Since the tax bills went out last week, we have already had almost 100 calls or walk-ins from taxpayers with concerns during the last few days. We are trying to get to everyone as soon as we can but it will take many weeks to meet with each of you to discuss your questions and concerns.

You have 185 days to contest any part of your Property valuation. If our assessed land valuation, or assessed building valuation is wrong then we will be glad to consider adjusting it and providing you with a refund if we over alued your property.  If you already paid your taxes and our numbers were wrong we will reimburse you.  There will be plenty of time to work with you.

We are very sorry that people were so surprised by the updating of our valuation records.

Some folks have asked:

Why such a big increase all at once and why not feather this increase gradually over the next several years?

The answer is that we legally can't. If we believe that your property is worth $150,000 now then we can't assess you at $120,000. That would be unfair to other Belfast property owners whose valuation is much closer to actual market values.

What if I can't afford to pay my taxes?

First you can pay in two installments without penalty- November and March if that helps.

If your income is too low we can try to work with you to get some tax relief either
through some State programs or file a hardship application for consideration by the City Council.

As we work with you, we may ask to visit your property, to fully respond to your
valuation concerns.

Thank you in advance for your patience as we continue communicating with each of
you.

Thank you,

Joe Slocum
City Manager
338-3370 ext. 110

Brent Martin
City Assessor
338-3370 ext. 122


Memo to All Belfast Property Owners
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