House advances Matlack bill to protect property taxpayers
AUGUSTA — The Maine House of Representatives gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill by Rep. Ann Matlack, D-St. George, which will clarify state law for municipal assessors and property owners and improve assessment fairness statewide.
In Maine, municipal assessors are responsible for determining the value of properties on which to base property taxes, and property owners have the right to appeal the determined value.
In recent years, some large corporations have begun to use this appeals process to defend property values significantly lower than those determined by municipalities.
Referred to as the “black store” theory, big box retailers appeal the estimated value of their property based on comparisons with stores that have closed and sold for significantly less than their previous value.
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“Big corporations take their newly built properties and compare their value to closed and abandoned stores,” Matlack said. “It involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in property taxes. These big-box stores want the benefits of municipal services – police and fire protection, for example – while shifting their share of the costs to the rest of the property taxpayers.
Written in consultation with Maine assessors, LD 1129 would give Maine municipalities the opportunity to clarify what makes a similar property comparable.
“This is an important piece of legislation that fills a very urgent need,” Thomaston City Assessor David Martucci said in his written testimony before the tax committee. “Indeed, if something like this bill were already enacted, the City of Thomaston would not be faced with four years of abatement claims totaling nearly three-quarters of a million dollars that have been stalled at the State Board of Property Tax. Review now for over a year.”
The bill faces further votes in both the House and the Senate.
Matlack is in his second term at Maine House and represents the communities of Cushing, Thomaston, South Thomaston, St. George, Matinicus, Criehaven and the Muscle Ridge Islands. She is chair of the House Committee on State and Local Government and a member of the Committee on Taxation.