More to the Newry tax story
We have just read your article from the June 24th edition entitled "Newry taken to court over $2.8 million home assessment". As the owners bringing the suit, we felt that a few details were overlooked.
We did not provide building cost and insurance data to the assessor because Maine law requires a home to be assessed at "just value". The "just value" is fair market value - not the cost to build the home or what the home is insured for – what the home would sell for to a willing, unrelated party. Cost data from before the economic collapse in 4Q of 2008 has no bearing on what the market value of the home is in 2009. Few, if any, Newry homeowners have been forced to provide actual cost data after completion of construction to the town – is this now going to be a requirement for all homeowners?
When we received our tax bill for the completed home, we were pretty certain that we were overvalued. Prior to contesting the assessment, we paid for an appraisal from a local, licensed appraiser. The appraiser has twenty years experience in the area. Although we would have loved the value of the house to be $2.8 million, unfortunately, it came in at $1.8 million. The tax assessor rejected the appraisal. We offered to pay for another appraisal to be done by an appraiser selected by the town; the assessor rejected this offer.
The Newry tax card consists of numbers based on the size of the house, and a subjective "grade". Based on the size of the house, and the land value, our assessment as shown on our current tax card is $1.2 million. The "grade" is not based on the size of the home, only on the quality of the finish. Newry then used this subjective "grade", to tack on another $1.6 million of assessment. As Maine law also requires that the value must be just relative to other homes in the municipality, we reviewed tax cards of similar quality homes. The largest increase due to the subjective “grade”, other than ours, was under $.4 million. Had our home received this largest ever subjective increase, the total assessed value of our house would be $1.6 million, not $2.8 million. This represents an over-assessment of just over $10,000 per year in tax liability.
While the article implies that the tax assessor would have worked with us despite the appeal being denied, the evidence is to the contrary. The assessor agreed that he had made a square footage error in the measurement of our home. But, it was not until six months later - two weeks before the Oxford County Assessment Review meeting - that the tax assessor finally made changes to our tax card to attempt to correct his error. (There are still errors on our tax card that have not yet been addressed.) We made an offer to the town to pay for another appraisal done by someone of their choosing and that was denied. We provided a list of homes that were of equal or better quality of finish as our home; no effort was made by the tax assessor to visit these homes or review the publicly available data we provided in terms of photos and finish.
Both the appraised value of the home, and the assessed value of the home, without a hugely inflated "grade", support a "just value" of $1.6-1.8 million. We are happy to work with the town to resolve this and hope that the article was incorrect about pre-conditions to an open dialogue. Otherwise, we must continue to pursue relief from the court.
Sophia Bilinsky and Walter Shevchuk