O’Donnell hired for Bridgton revaluation

ASSESSING THE ASSESSOR — Bridgton Town Manager Bob Peabody, left, listened Tuesday as Michael O’Donnell of John E. O’Donnell & Associates, right, explained his company’s revaluation process. Also listening were Selectmen Bob McHatton, Paul Hoyt and Doug Taft.   (Geraghty Photo)

ASSESSING THE ASSESSOR — Bridgton Town Manager Bob Peabody, left, listened Tuesday as Michael O’Donnell of John E. O’Donnell & Associates, right, explained his company’s revaluation process. Also listening were Selectmen Bob McHatton, Paul Hoyt and Doug Taft. (Geraghty Photo)

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen voted Tuesday to enter into a contract with John E. O’Donnell & Associates to conduct a long-awaited town-wide property revaluation that will begin with field visits this summer.

In voting to hire the New Gloucester firm, selectmen agreed to forego the bidding process. O’Donnell has provided longtime service as the town’s assessing agent and conducted the last revaluation in 2005.

In a workshop prior to the vote, the board met with company spokesperson Michael O’Donnell in order to satisfy any concerns about single-sourcing the work. O’Donnell said the $172,500 price his company was offering for the work was the same price they charged in the last revaluation 10 years ago.

“We’ve been careful about overpricing because we want to keep our long-term relationship” with the town, O’Donnell said. He added that the price reflects “a built-in savings to us, because we know the town.”

The town’s revaluation reserve account currently has $150,000 available, with another $50,000 recommended as part of this year’s budget.

O’Donnell said his cost for the revaluation is at least competitive, and likely less than what the town would pay to other firms if it put the work out to bid. Of his main competitors, he said R.J.B. Appraisal is “really busy, and would have a hard time delivering.” Vision Government Solutions, Inc., which took over from O’Donnell in Casco, has been competitive in its pricing but would require Bridgton to rebuild its entire assessment database.

“They want to do a revaluation and sell you software,” O’Donnell said. He summed up his company’s experience in the 2007 Casco revaluation as “Six rather hard years,” culminating in “upset lakefront property owners who couldn’t accept reality and eventually ran us out of town.”

Other than using a larger firm, O’Donnell said Bridgton could opt to go with a small “one-man assessing team.” He added, however, that in addition to its longstanding relationship with Bridgton, O’Donnell & Associates has six full-time assessors, and offers “a depth of experience that most others don’t offer.”

The company, founded by John E. O’Donnell in 1961, has completed 72 tax equalization (revaluation) programs, Almost 40 Maine towns use O'Donnell & Associates for annual tax assessing work.

“We’re well-situated to take this job on now,” O’Donnell told the board.

Bridgton Selectman Bob McHatton said he’s been impressed in the past with the care that O’Donnell has taken to test its values before finalizing them, and in explaining the values to taxpayers after the revaluation is complete.

“They’ve always been an excellent company,” McHatton said.

O’Donnell said he’s glad the process will begin soon, because it will allow enough time to prepare new assessment numbers for 2016. In addition, his field agents will be able to meet with summer residents as they conduct their door-to-door field inspections, he said.

Town Manager Bob Peabody, who formerly oversaw revaluations in Rockport and Berlin, N.H., and was a certified Maine Assessor, asked O’Donnell a series of questions about how his company conducts their revaluations. Peabody particularly wanted to know under what circumstances that interior inspections would be required.

O’Donnell said it won’t be necessary to go inside every home. “We’ve been going to the houses in this community for many years — we know these houses well,” O’Donnell said. It’s never worthwhile, he said, to “bully our way in,” and in most cases a close-up walk around the yard will do.

At the same time, said O’Donnell, “We don’t windshield any houses” by simply driving by. “If you do that, eventually it shows,” in terms of calculations that are too generalized, he said.

Instead, he said, “We drive up, we park, we knock on the door.” If no one is home, “We walk around the property, and we look through the windows.” Of the latter practice, he noted, “We always have, and we always will,” because it’s the only way to confirm information on the property tax card. “We’re not trying to catch you when you’re not home.”

The three big changes in value that have occurred in the past 10 years have been in condominiums, vacant lots and deferred maintenance homes, O’Donnell said. Another difference since the last revaluation is that “The premium to get on the lake has faded in favor of quality lakefront,” he said. Other than that, the assessors are looking for the obvious: decks that are now porches, additions, breezeways and other improvements that would affect the value. Anything that is different will require a new photo.

O’Donnell said his company will look at four years of sales data and will re-evaluate the levels it used last time for different parts of Bridgton’s lakes.

Bridgton’s current assessments have come under criticism from some residents, who say they were performed when real estate values were approaching record highs, and don’t take into account the market’s 2008 collapse. Some condominium owners on Moose Pond have successfully challenged their assessments before the Cumberland County Board of Assessment Review.

 

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