CLINTON — Town officials are hoping voters will re-evaluate their decision earlier this year to not approve money for a townwide property revaluation. But at least one resident who recognizes the need for a revaluation is nevertheless afraid his taxes will increase as a result.

November’s ballot in Clinton includes one referendum question asking voters whether they will approve using $200,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance to conduct the revaluation, which the town manager and Clinton’s contracted assessing agent both say is needed.

“It’s long overdue,” said Town Manager Earla Haggerty, who wasn’t sure when the town’s last revaluation took place but believed it was either in the early 2000s or in 1989. A Morning Sentinel story from 2004 indicates that Clinton completed a revaluation sometime that year.

Garnett Robinson, whose company, Maine Assessment & Appraisal Services, contracts as the Clinton assessor’s agent, said the need for the revaluation is driven by existing inequalities among current property assessments in town.

“The whole reason for this revaluation would be more what we call an equalization,” Robinson said. “We’re trying to get properties back in line with similar properties.”

But resident Wendell Sweet, who recognizes the need for the revaluation, has concerns that his taxes might increase if his property valuation increases.

“Well, I know it needs to be done,” Sweet said, but added he probably will vote against approving the money for it. He said he would have to read what’s on the ballot before he makes a final decision.

The town previously brought the proposed revaluation to voters in June, but that referendum failed in a narrow 296-291 vote, according to Town Clerk Melody Fitzpatrick. Haggerty attributed the result of the vote to the town’s failure to educate residents about the need for the revaluation. Officials are trying to avoid a repeat scenario in November.

“What the voters didn’t understand was that it did not affect the mil rate. This $200,000 essentially is out of their savings account. It will not affect their taxes or their mil rate,” Haggerty said. “So we’re going back to the polls, asking the same question, but we’ve had a year to educate the voters, and hopefully we’ll prevail.”

Haggerty said the town has employed several strategies, including face-to-face conversations, the inclusion of a revaluation educational flyer in this year’s tax bills, and information in the town’s bimonthly newsletter, to raise awareness about the revaluation push.

“I think we’ve done all we can do,” she said.

Clinton Selectboard Chairman Jeffrey Towne said the board was unanimous in its support for moving the item to referendum this November. He also said there are “some inequalities in the current state of our evaluation base.”

“It was felt that some voters, at least, didn’t quite understand what the article meant,” Towne said about the previous vote. “(The town’s valuation is) out of date and it needs to be updated.”

Robinson, whose company provides contracted assessing services to Clinton several days per month and has worked with the town for only a few years, stressed that existing inequalities and incomplete information about properties in town mean Clinton is not being as fairly assessed as it could be.

“We’re missing lots of data,” Robinson said. “We’re going out and finding houses that had never been assessed, that were missed. We’re finding properties that weren’t mapped.”

Along with missing some properties entirely, he added that there have been cases where existing properties are being taxed more than they should be.

“We’ve had cases of double-wides being assessed as single-frame residences, which are greatly over-valuing that type of property,” Robinson said. “We’re discovering problems as we go constantly.”

According to Robinson, the discrepancies are too numerous for his company to address under the current part-time contract.

“Our job is to try to discover that, but it’s been at such a scale that we’ve been unable to do that with our normal work, and it really requires a revaluation,” he said.

Dennis Butler, who said he owns the Clinton Auto Parts store and several other buildings on Railroad Street, felt he has had property over-assessed by the town and didn’t find it likely that his property value would be decreased through a potential revaluation.

“They won’t go down,” said Butler, who won’t be supporting the revaluation question on the ballot and said he’s seen several revaluations in his 57 years in town.

“And nothing’s ever gone down,” he said.

Around the corner at Gerry’s Beauty Salon, owner Nancy Shibles believes her current property valuation is accurate.

“I feel that I’m being fairly assessed,” said Shibles, who owns the building on Main Street but lives in Burnham. Shibles didn’t have an opinion either way on the revaluation referendum.

If the $200,000 is approved, it would be moved from the undesignated fund balance to an assessment capital reserve fund. The Selectboard then would need to approve sending out a request for proposals to interested assessing companies to submit bids on the project. Robinson said it’s possible his company could submit a bid, depending on his existing workload in other towns. Regardless of who does the potential job, he expects a townwide revaluation process, which would include door-to-door assessments, to take approximately a year.

Haggerty again emphasized that the money for the revaluation would come from undesignated funds.

“If they understand that, I think they’ll vote for it,” she said about Clinton voters. “But because it was on the same ballot (in June) that set the mil rate with the budget, they thought it was part of the budget, and actually it’s not. It’s totally separate.”

The state of Maine’s valuation for Clinton has grown continually since 2013 and is listed at $196,950,000 this year. A municipal valuation document provided by Haggerty lists Clinton’s 2018 certified ratio at 90 percent, meaning the town’s own assessment of value is essentially 10 percent lower than the state’s. That gap indicates there is additional taxable value that is not currently assessed and could be identified in a revaluation.

“It will have to go up a little bit,” Robinson said about the town’s overall valuation. “At the same time, we have undiscovered property, which will add value as well. If we have properties that are currently not being assessed that are discovered during this process — people that have built things that are permitted — those will be added to it, so you have that increase as well.”

Despite the expected increase in overall assessed town value, Robinson said the effect will not be felt evenly across the tax base: some residents likely will get an increase in their tax bill, some a decrease, and others will stay about the same.

“There will be people that have decreased tax bills. There will be others that have been underassessed and will go up, as they should,” he said.

Robinson cited the Maine Constitution, which states in Article IX that “all taxes upon real and personal estate, assessed by authority of this State, shall be apportioned and assessed equally according to the just value thereof.”

“Our job is to try to equalize between taxpayers, to make sure everybody pays their fair share and not more,” Robinson said. “And it’s our opinion, and I believe the opinion of the Selectboard, that there are people that are being overassessed or underassessed, and we’re trying through this process to fix that.”

The town has scheduled a public forum for 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Clinton Town Office. The assessing agent will present information on the potential revaluation and will e available to answer questions from residents.

Matt Junker — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @mattjunker

 

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