Town to take a look at Bridgton Academy’s tax exempt status

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

The Bridgton Board of Selectmen will ask the town’s assessors’ agent, O’Donnell & Associates, to look into the tax exempt status of Bridgton Academy, following the receipt of an anonymous letter asking them to do just that.

The anonymous letter writer forwarded a copy to the selectmen of a Nov. 23, 2011 article in the Lewiston Sun Journal that told of how the Town of Hebron was alleging in court that Hebron Academy, a private preparatory school like Bridgton Academy, does not qualify for tax-exempt status under Maine law because it rents out its ice arena to community groups and individuals.

“Bridgton Academy does the exact same thing,” stated the anonymous letter, dated Dec. 1, 2011. “They also directly compete against restaurants in town by renting out their dining hall. During the summer, they rent out their campus to sports groups, not educational groups.”

“It behooves the Bridgton selectmen to carefully follow this case and, if the Town of Hebron wins, investigate taxing Bridgton Academy in the same manner. This will save us taxpayers in Bridgton some money,” the letter writer said further.

The letter was signed, “A Concerned Bridgton Resident who will watch for your reaction on (public access) TV.”

“The unsigned letter suggests we take a close look at Bridgton Academy, because the Town of Hebron has Hebron Academy,” Bridgton Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz told selectmen here Feb. 28.

Court: Hebron Academy’s tax exempt status stands

The town manager said that he had already spoken to O’Donnell & Associates about the matter.

“Since that time, it was determined by a judge,” Berkowitz stated. “The judge ruled in favor of Hebron Academy, saying the amount of revenue generated (by Hebron Academy for its ice arena rentals) was de minimus (not significant enough) and did not disqualify them from tax exempt status.”

Selectman Paul Hoyt had researched the subject of tax exemption. Hoyt said state law does allow municipalities to tax a nonprofit private school or religious facility for buildings used for employee housing and that are assessed at above $20,000.

“If this is a law in the State of Maine, I think we have a duty to look into this,” said Selectman Hoyt.

Academy Beach tax-exempt?

“The other part I could not find (in researching Maine tax exemption statutes), at this point, is the (Bridgton Academy) beach (on Long Lake),” stated Hoyt. “Bridgton Academy owns a beach — lakefront property. The question, I think, is valid. How does that (beach property) become tax exempt? If it is, then I’m fine with it.”

“I think we should make sure we are following the law, and they (Bridgton Academy officials) are following the law, as well,” said Selectman Woody Woodward.

Hoyt said state law says nonprofit property owners “must file with the assessors, upon their (the assessors’) request, in such detail as the assessors might legally require.”

“I believe we automatically reinstate their (Bridgton Academy’s tax) exemption annually,” the town manager told the board of selectmen. “If it’s the pleasure of the Board, I’ll discuss this with O’Donnell and get back to you.”

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