Casco reviews revaluation strategies

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO – The Casco Board of Selectmen got a crash course on property revaluations recently.

During a post-Christmas meeting, John O’Donnell, the president of O’Donnell Assessors, provided the board with information on determining property values in Casco.

The board will be tasked with hiring a team of assessors to start the process of revaluating both commercial and residential properties in town. Ideally, the board would like revaluations to begin this spring or summer — so that seasonal residents with waterfront parcels would be in Maine and available to give assessors access to the interior of those homes and cottages.

When residents went to the polls in early November, the majority supported a citizens-driven initiative for the town to perform another revaluation, which would bring property values more in line with the prices at which homes are currently being sold. The cost of the revaluations is capped at $290,000; and that money will be spent from the Undesignated Fund Balance.

According to O’Donnell, the spike in Casco’s property taxes — mostly to support the budget of School District Administration (SAD) No. 61 — caused an uproar with homeowners. Typically, when taxes increase dramatically, people begin looking at property valuations, he said.

According to Town Manager Dave Morton, O’Donnell’s expertise was being sought — to assist the board with choosing the best firm to perform the upcoming valuations. O’Donnell is the co-owner of the company that for the past decade has been the town’s assessor.

“He’s here to help the board answer questions and put the referrals for proposal (RFPs) together,” Morton said on Dec. 27.

Currently, Casco has a quality rating of 10 percent — which means the different classes of property are valued within 10 percent of one another, O’Donnell said. In Casco, waterfront properties averaged three percent higher than other residential parcels, he said.

“When your quality rating is getting up to 15 (percent), then you need to do an assessment.

If the quality rating is above 20, then you are not taxing property owners equally,” O’Donnell said.

He advised the board to “look at the existing assessments and the current market value to determine what steps you should be taking to fine tune the variance” between waterfront and other residential properties.

“Don’t wait until there are widespread disparities because when you fix them, there will be exorbitant   shifts in the property tax burdens,” he said.

O’Donnell discussed the factors selectmen should consider when putting the revaluation job out to bid.

“Ask the company what knowledge it has of the Town of Casco. What will they have to do to get up to speed? Gauge what type of knowledge these companies have of Casco. Do they have to Google where you are, before filling out bid paperwork? Then, that is not the firm for you,” O’Donnell said.

“Ask what is the staff experience of field staff and the auditing team overall,” he said.

When creating the RFPs, the board should provide companies with the option to omit unnecessary items.

“If there is something in the specs that are not in the town’s best interest, we would exclude it in the bid,” he said.

“Don’t ask for everything and the kitchen sink. Look at the specifications. Think about what you really want and don’t want. Then, remove the extra stuff before you put it out to bid,” he said.

O’Donnell recommended leaving out specifications for the auditor to request all income and expenses from businesses and industry in Casco.

“It won’t be well received,” he said, adding the revaluation team could end up with less information from less willing business owners if that information is mandated by the town.

He also told the board to be realistic about how many private homes the auditing team would have access to.

“If you get into between 65 to 70 percent of the homes — that is good,” O’Donnell said. “You are throwing money at it, if you make more than two visits.”

Selectman Mary-Vienessa Fernandes asked about holding public meetings to keep residents informed about the steps involved in revaluations.

The RFPs “usually have a public relations clause,” O’Donnell said. So, the winning bidder will “provide a couple informational meetings for residents,” he said.

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