Voting mostly along party lines, the Maine House of Representatives (76-53) and the Senate (22-11) to enact LD 1129, An Act Relating to the Valuation of Improved Real Property, sponsored by Rep. Ann Matlack (D-St. George). The Maine State Chamber testified in opposition to LD 1129 at the public hearing and worked hard against the bill, but unfortunately, it passed.
Proponents of this bill argued that it was aimed at big box or so called “dark stores.” However, the law as passed tells a far different story. Essentially, the law prohibits assessors from considering issues like deed restrictions, easements, and encumbrances (potentially zoning restrictions) when valuing similar property with no such restrictions. The bill itself was amended in committee, the title was changed, and the language broadened to include all improved real property, both residential and commercial. The amended bill attempted to solve through legislation what is essentially a litigation issue at the municipal level. However, what it really does is favor municipalities at the expense of taxpayers’ rights and implies a taxpayer’s ability to challenge certain assessments. So, to continue to portray this as just a “dark stores” bill is not accurate.
The law deviates substantially from judicial precedent because it prohibits an assessor from being able to consider issues like deed restrictions, easements, and encumbrances (potentially including zoning restrictions) when valuing similar property with no such restrictions. In addition, the limiting term of “improved property” narrows the application of the three methodologies recently clarified by the Law Court, which did not distinguish between improved and unimproved land. This could raise questions as to the legislature’s intent with respect to unimproved property.
Basically, LD 1129 (Public Law chapter 663) is an attempt by municipalities to stop companies from challenging assessments because they deem the process to be too costly. This legislation will not stop litigation; in fact, it could have unintended consequences. Taxpayers should have the right to appeal a property tax assessment they deem to be unjust. Ultimately, assessments are best left to the assessor for determining values of property, both improved and unimproved.
Unfortunately, the Editorial Board of the Portland Press Herald decided to weigh in publicly on the “dark stores” issue. Attempts by the Maine State Chamber to publish a rebuttal of that editorial in support of the bill went unanswered. If you have any questions, please contact Linda Caprara, senior government relations specialist, by calling (207) 623-4568, ext. 106, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.