Revaluation referendum revs up residents

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO – The format was clearly stated beforehand and followed accordingly, although the tone was sometimes harsh, as residents and public officials weighed in on the ballot issue to do another property valuation.

The citizens’ signature petition, which will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot, asks whether or not Casco voters support a complete revaluation of all property in the town. The ballot measure has a fiscal note of $290,000, which is the current rate for that type of revaluation.

The town has $60,000 appropriated for its next revaluation – an amount that has been set aside since 2007.  The referendum proposes to pay for the cost of a revaluation from the Undesignated Fund (or Surplus) Balance.

During a public hearing on Oct. 18 at the Casco Community Center, people’s opinions and questions were heard in the following order: those for the measure, those against the measure, those with a neutral stance, followed by questions from the public about the revaluation issue.

The argument in favor of the revaluation — as outlined by resident Bob Levesque — was that the most recent revaluation in 2007 was done improperly. He said the 2007 revaluation was not done thoroughly — at a lower expense to the taxpayers.

A complete revaluation would bring Casco property values more into line with what real estate is selling for, he said.

Many of those who favored the valuation did so because there was a chance that if Casco properties were rated lower, the contribution from the state for education would raise.

In recent years as the State of Maine’s ability to pledge money to education has decreased, the tax burden to local towns has increased. To counter this, an Essential Programs and Services formula was established to determine which school districts will pay more and which ones will be assisted by the state.

Currently, Casco property owners saw the biggest increase in their bill to School Administrative District No. (SAD) No. 61, compared to consolidated communities of Naples, Bridgton and Sebago.

According to SAD 61 Finance Coordinator Sherrie Small, a change to Casco’s property values does not necessarily spell out more state money or a lessened burden on taxpayers when it comes to footing the local education bill.

“I don’t think a local revaluation will affect the town’s funding to the school because it’s based on the state numbers,” she said during a phone interview on Tuesday.

Small said a 2011 state valuation has been completed; and the valuations have gone down.

“We will be using those numbers for the 2012–13 budget, but it is too soon to tell if the town’s contributions will go down,” Small said.

Town Manager Dave Morton, who spoke as taking a neutral stance, said while hiring a firm to do a property revaluation was a good thing, people should not expect that a lowered valuation would equal more education money from the state.

“My biggest fear is that people have an expectation this would give an increase in state subsidy. The reason to reconsider a revaluation is not to capture education money. The reason to reconsider a revaluation is problems of equity,” Morton testified.

Resident Steve Matsko, who owns two parcels on Watkins Road, agreed that the 2007 revaluation was bogus, and needed to be redone.

“I am going to echo what Mr. Levesque is saying, the revaluation needs to be thorough. Why should Kennebunk or any other town that is richer than Casco get more money per student?” he said.

“Spending the $290,000 now is going to get us a million dollars back on Tier One,” he said.

Earlier in the evening, Levesque had talked about studies he had done regarding education funding.

“The 2007 revaluation essentially confirmed that Casco was a rich town and state school subsidies would be reduced annually until this year; the subsidy has been cut from $3,081 per student to just $438 this tax year,” he said, adding, “The estimate of subsidies lost since 2007 is $4,115,336.”

When Levesque closed his argument during the beginning of the public hearing, his words challenged both the Casco Board of Selectmen who were seated in 2007, and those who have been elected since then.

“Let’s hope they stick it to you this time by voting ‘Yes’ in a large majority to force the town to make a revaluation,” he said.

“Also, three members of the board of selectmen were not here in 2007. My advice to the three of you is quite simple: Don’t get sucked into trying to cover up for 2007 fiasco that Casco called a revaluation,” Levesque said.

Resident Alice Darlington spoke against the revaluation. Darlington sits on the Casco Finance Committee, which voted last month to not recommend the referendum.

“I disagree that the valuation was wrong,” Darlington said.  She said she stood behind the board’s decision in 2007 to take the less expensive route to finish the revaluation.

“The valuation is in the past,” she said. “Everyone squeaks. I squeak when I see my tax bill.”

“People will always be unhappy when taxes go up. The problem is not valuation or how it is done, the problem is the taxes we pay for the school,” Darlington said.

The revaluation referendum landed on the upcoming ballot because a citizen’s petition received almost double the required number of signatures.

The signature requirement is 10 percent of the voter turnout during the most recent gubernatorial race.

According to the Town Office, 120 signatures are required, and the recent petition garnered slightly more than 200.

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