AUBURN – State law doesn’t exempt the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments from paying property taxes, according to city assessing officials.

The very laws that created the group exempt it only from paying sales and income taxes – not property and real estate taxes. That was all members of the city’s Board of Assessment Review needed Wednesday night to turn back AVCOG’s appeal of a $25,000 property tax bill.

“I don’t know if you are a municipal group, a quasi-municipal group or a charity,” said board member Jonathon Harris. “And I don’t think it matters. The state law says you are not exempt.”

But Wednesday’s decision won’t likely end the controversy.

“I don’t think I have to inform you that you can appeal this to Superior Court,” Chair Arnold Leavitt told AVCOG officials.

Bob Thompson, AVCOG’s executive director, said his board of directors will decide if they would appeal Wednesday’s decision.

AVCOG attorney David Dufford argued that two sections of the Maine Revised Statutes exempt the group from having to pay any taxes – one that defines municipal and quasi-municipal groups and another that defines charitable groups.

Both definitions fit, he said. The group is made up of several municipal groups and provides services that help government. AVCOG is also listed as a 501(c)3 organization, a federally recognized tax-exempt group.

But the board could not get past the legislation that created councils of government. Those rules specifically say those groups are exempt only from sales and income taxes.

“That says to me that you are specifically not exempt from real estate taxes,” Harris said. “The fact that you wear three hats is irrelevant.”

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, eight years after it was built.

The city repeatedly waived the tax bill, however. Officials maintained 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.

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