AUBURN – A city appeals board could decide the fate of AVCOG’s $25,000 tax bill next month.

The city assessor sent the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments a bill last year for the first time ever. When the organization’s appeal of that bill was turned down by city officials, a decision was sought in Superior Court.

But city attorney Patrick Scully said the matter might be settled by the city’s Board of Assessment Review.

“At this point, we’re trying to find a hearing time that will be convenient for both parties and the board,” Scully said.

AVCOG has never paid property taxes on its nearly 10,000-square-foot office building on Manley Road. The city didn’t even assess taxes on the building until former assessor Joe Downey did it in 1997.

The city repeatedly waived the tax bill, however. City officials claimed the group was exempt until last year, when Councilor Bob Mennealy questioned the practice. An interpretation by the city’s lawyer agreed that AVCOG should pay up.

The pending tax bill represents $18,012.88 in real estate taxes and $7,345 in personal property taxes. The property taxes were due in July 2003 and half of the real estate taxes were due in September. The other half is due this spring.

“The statute says the party requiring a review must first pay their taxes, and AVCOG filed an appeal of that decision,” Scully said. The appeal is before a Superior Court justice.

City officials are waiting for a ruling that would allow them to schedule a hearing before the local Board of Assessment Review to settle the issue. Scully expects the hearing to be set for mid-June.

AVCOG provides transportation, environmental and economic planning to 43 communities in central and western Maine, including Auburn and Lewiston. AVCOG collects membership dues from those communities. In 2003, Auburn paid $19,445, the second highest assessment. Lewiston, the largest city in the group’s membership area, paid $25,000.

In January, the Auburn City Council asked legislators to clarify rules requiring metropolitan planning groups to pay property taxes. Statutes exempt similar groups from sales and income taxes but not from property taxes.

The matter was discussed by the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee, but nothing was decided, City Manager Pat Finnigan said.

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