Tensions high over proposed lot fees for Otisfield’s Heniger Park

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OTISFIELD — Selectman Len Adler said Wednesday that a move to increase town lease fees on lots at Heniger Park on Pleasant Lake doesn’t go far enough.

“I want to get fair market value. No more. No less,” he said.

Adler is also a member of the Heniger Park Reassessment Committee.

The committee was formed last year to make recommendations to selectmen on what to do once the 50-year Heniger Park leases begin to expire in 2015. Leaseholders were allowed to build camps, and most did, paying taxes on their full value, but not the land.

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In October, the committee voted to recommend that new lease fees be two times the property tax rate, which for fiscal year 2014 is $11.55 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Many camp owners are saying the proposed plan would price them out of their summer camps.

But Adler said he has heard from other people who feel the deal camp owners got was too good to begin with and still doesn’t reflect a fair value.

Adler is asking that the town have a professional appraisal done on each lot to determine its fair market value.

“Whatever they’re worth we expect leaseholders to pay. We’ll get the fair market value whether it’s $1,000 or $6,000,” Adler said.

The 100 acres of mostly wooded land on Pleasant Lake was left to the town in 1943 by noted Broadway producer Jacob Heniger. The will stipulated that the Board of Selectmen decide what would be done with the real estate.

In 1965, the board drew up agreements allowing people to build on leased lakeside lots for fees ranging from $0 to $50 per year for 50 years. The leases expire between 2015 and 2032. Each agreement differed.

Lease payments are now calculated by the assessed land value of $15,000 for back lots and $30,000 for lakefront lots, which is then multiplied by the tax rate of $11.55 per thousand dollars or property value. The fee is then added on.

For example, Lot 1 is a lakefront lot assessed at $30,000. Multiplied by the 2014 tax rate of $11.55, plus the $50 fee means the camp owner is paying $396.50 to lease the land. The camp owner also pays a property tax on the assessed value of their building or buildings.

If the same property were located on the back lot, which now has the $15,000 assessed land value, that owner would pay $223.25 plus the tax owed on the structure or structures on the lot.

The new lease terms would increase leases — some say double or quadruple the amount as land values are adjusted — a move that owners say may price them out of their longtime summer camps.

Ruth Watson, a former Otisfield resident who now lives in Paris, says it’s time for Heniger Park camp owners “to pay up like the rest of us.”

Watson, who has owned cottages on Thompson Lake and Norway Lake for decades, said in a Jan. 27 letter to town officials and Heniger Park owners that, “Never had we had the privilege to only pay $50 for taxes or less, a year.”

She called on leasers to be thankful for what they had. “A lot of folks are being forced to sell,” she said of other lakefront property owners whose taxes may increase each year.

Owners of camps in Heniger Park on Pleasant Lake say they just want to be treated fairly.

“Please just be reasonable,” said camp owner Ed McCarthy in an email dated Feb. 4 to committee member Rick Micklon, a selectman. “Don’t just say we’re doing it (raising lease fees)  because we can.”

McCarthy said if the terms of the new leases are “totally unreasonable,” there will be a glut of sales in the park and those sites will be on the market for a long time,  causing building owners to “quit the property.”

“The town will be at ground zero again with no taxable property,” he wrote.

Micklon said other Heniger Park Reassessment Committee members disagreed with Adler’s thought that the town wasn’t getting what they should from the property.

“It wasn’t received well throughout the committee. A few of us said our committee had worked hard to get to the point we had and I’m not going to put back the hands of time,” Micklon said Wednesday.

The committee will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20.

The proposed new property lease terms are expected to be unveiled to the public at an informational hearing in March. The recommendation will go to the Board of Selectmen, which expects to place it on the June annual town meeting warrant as a nonbinding vote.

Selectmen say the decision will affect all Otisfield taxpayers.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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