NEWRY — For the fourth year in a row, the owner of a second home assessed at $2.8 million by the town has applied for a tax abatement.
Sophia Bilinsky of Kennett Square, Pa., applied for abatements for the years 2009-2011, claiming the home was worth only $1.7 million. She was denied by the town, as well as on appeal by the Oxford County Board of Assessment Review and by Oxford County Superior Court.
Her 2012 tax bill was $25,527.
Last week, Newry selectmen discussed how to proceed, and whether the mounting legal costs to the town justified another denial.
The town and Bilinsky have differed on issues, including the availability of information on construction costs of the 2007 home, square footage, depreciation and the grade (quality of finish).
Town officials said legal costs for last year totaled several thousand dollars. They did not provide a specific figure, nor the amount the town would lose in an abatement. The town’s tax rate is $9.10 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Selectman Brooks Morton raised the question of whether continuing a legal defense was worth the cost.
Chairwoman Wendy Hanscom said it was a matter of principle. “If she just keeps pushing us until we settle for the legal fees, that’s not right. I don’t feel like just because she’s putting our feet to the fire, we’ve got to cave.”
The Newry board is simultaneously dealing with the 2012 and 2011 abatement requests, and weighing the implications of a recent court ruling on the 2010 appeal.
The 2011 request is scheduled to go before the Oxford County Board of Assessment Review on Feb. 13.
Last month, Superior Court Judge Robert W. Clifford upheld the Oxford County Board of Assessment Review’s denial of the 2010 abatement appeal.
But near the end of his ruling, the judge wrote, “Plaintiffs did present some evidence that is persuasive, but because they had the burden to prove that the assessment was manifestly wrong, the court can vacate the decision of the Board only if the record compels the conclusion that they met that burden.
"Although the plaintiffs presented more evidence before the board than they presented in their prior appeal seeking an abatement of the 2009 taxes, the issues presented were the same. Based on review of the record, the court is convinced that the Board could have found the assessment manifestly wrong, but is not convinced that the Board was compelled to so conclude,” Clifford wrote.
As a result of that opinion, selectmen were uncertain about how solid their case would be for 2012. They also noted that the makeup of the Oxford County Board of Assessment Review has changed in the past year.
Selectmen favored waiting to see the Oxford County Board of Assessment Review’s decision on the pending 2011 appeal before responding to Bilinsky’s 2012 abatement request. They planned to ask her for more information on the home.
Hanscom said the town’s assessor had advised that unless selectmen were told by one of the appeal bodies that they had done something wrong, different action was not warranted.
“If they point out something wrong in 2011, we did the same thing in 2012,” Hanscom said.
However, on Monday, Powers said the town’s attorney on the case had since advised that selectmen should respond immediately to Bilinsky.
Bilinsky’s attorney, Jarrod Crockett, was contacted to see if she wished to comment on the abatement issue, but he did not respond.