Portland property homeowners await outcomes of first citywide revaluation in 15 years

Portland residential and commercial property owners will get their first look at their reassessed property values this spring, after 15 years in which property values soared in many areas. Tax bills based on the newly assessed values will be sent out next fall.

The city’s last revaluation was done in 2006, and property values have changed dramatically, members of the Portland City Council were told Monday evening during a revaluation workshop.

“As someone else on the council said, this is going to have a big impact,” Mayor Kate Snyder said following a presentation by Portland Tax Assessor Christopher Huff.

Huff said that most of the field work for the new revaluation was conducted in 2019 and 2020, but implementation was delayed last year because of the pandemic. Under a new timeline Huff presented Monday, property owners will receive their new assessed values in mid to late May.

Portland decided to wait a year before implementing the revaluation because of the unknown financial implications of the pandemic. Huff said then that it would not be prudent to set new real estate values by the April 1, 2020 assessment date because property values were at risk of fluctuating.

The goal of revaluations in Maine is to equally distribute the property tax burden, with one-third of property owners seeing an increase in property tax bills, one-third staying about the same, and one-third seeing their bills decrease. But it is too early to know how many Portland residents and commercial property owners will experience sticker shock.

Property owners who disagree with their new assessments can appeal beginning June 7. The informal appeal process will end Aug. 13, with the City Council setting the fiscal year 2021-2022 tax rate on Sept. 1. Property tax bills will be mailed out starting Sept. 10.

Maine law stipulates that a property’s assessed value should reflect what the property could sell for on the open market. Two weeks ago, the Maine Revenue Services informed Huff that current assessed values in Portland are averaging about 66 percent of market value, below the state minimum standard of 70 percent. Huff said the revaluation should bring those numbers back into compliance.

The Maine Constitution requires that municipalities conduct property revaluations every 10 years. Huff said the Assessor’s Office will be working to shorten that period. A 10-year cycle for a growing city like Portland can allow inequities to increase, and usually leads to larger, unpredictable changes in property values, he said. A shorter cycle would make property taxes more equitable, predictable and manageable.

Councilors left open the possibility that the city would consider phasing in the revaluation over two years.

A phased-in approach could lessen the initial financial impact on taxpayers, but the council’s legal adviser warned that that approach would likely be challenged successfully in court. Phasing in the revaluation would spread over two years the tax increase to owners of properties whose value rose sharply. But owners whose property values have fallen would have to wait two years to get the full tax benefit.

Longtime councilor Nicholas Mavodones said the city phased in its last revaluation in 2006, and District 1 councilor Belinda Ray said she would support a phased-in approach to soften the impact. But further discussion likely won’t take place until the council takes up the revaluation at a meeting in May. A specific date has not been set, but the meeting will take place before Huff mails out the new assessment notifications.

“The last time we did a revaluation it was the islands and the waterfront that got creamed,” Mavodones said, adding he doubts that would be the case this time. Ray, who lives in East Bayside, expressed concerns that Portland’s Bayside and Munjoy Hill neighborhoods would be hardest hit this time.

Huff said his department plans to conduct a far-reaching public relations campaign in the coming weeks, using social media, newspaper opinion pieces, television station interviews, podcasts and digital ads to increase public awareness. Tyler Technologies’ CLT Appraisal Services has been assisting the assessing department with data collection and will conduct informal appeals hearings this summer.

For more information regarding the city’s revaluation, property owners should go to portlandmaine.gov/2444/2021-Revaluation-Project.

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