WATERFORD – After selectmen gave 34 owners of trailers parked at the Keoka Beach Camping Area final notice last December about their unpaid 2004 taxes, all but seven paid up.
Now the town has placed liens on those seven trailers. The total due is about $1,300.
But that won’t work to persuade at least one in the group to pay. “Until I am taxed fairly and legally, I don’t see any recourse than to not pay my taxes,” Bill Tryder said from his home in Mirror Lake, N.H. “I am not being taxed fairly, and the county commissioners said that.”
The liens are part of an ongoing push by town officials to change the tax code for trailers parked at the lakeside campground.
But because selectmen are going against the county’s ruling, they may have entered shaky legal ground, according to an official with the Maine Revenue Service.
Selectmen have argued that the RVs, which are permanently positioned at the campground and in some ways resemble summer cottages with porches and decks, need to be taxed more like homes. This means, for instance, that those closer to the lake are assessed at a higher value, despite the owners not owning the land they’re on.
A handful of the RV owners – there are about 125 trailers in the campground – protested. A dozen filed for tax abatements with the county commissioners, who last fall ruled in their favor. The county commissioners granted their abatements and instructed Waterford to tax the RVs based on a National Auto Dealers Association publication, which assesses vehicle values, and to not consider the distance from the water.
Selectmen, however, ignored the county’s decision and went ahead with the liens. Three of the liens have been placed against trailer owners who did not file for abatements.
Selectman Whizzer Wheeler said the county commissioners’ decision is invalid because they did not recommend an alternative tax and instead recommended a methodology, which he said was the local assessor’s job, not the county’s.
David Ledew at Maine Revenue Services said Thursday, “It is troubling when people in an official position ignore the decisions of those put in place by the Legislature to hear these types of issues. And I think the county commissioners did a pretty good job laying out the job of the assessors.”
Selectmen could have appealed the county’s decision to Oxford County Superior Court.
A call to the district attorney seeking comment was not returned.
Ledew said he questions whether selectmen might be personally liable for collecting taxes that the county commissioners ruled against.
Tryder said he’s been camping at Keoka Beach since 1962, and installed a new trailer at the family site in 2002. He said he has a yearly contract to rent his site from Gary and Chris Searles, the campground owners.
“Keoka is a very special place to me, and it’s very unfortunate to me that this Board of Selectmen has put such a sour taste in my mouth,” he said. “I find this Board of Selectmen to operate in an unusual manner.”
Tryder said he has not ruled out taking legal action. “The fact that they have filed a lien on my property hurts me and irritates me.”