SUMNER – Elizabeth Downs, a summer resident of the town, confronted selectmen Tuesday with what she claimed was an unfair valuation process.

Downs, who was in Florida for the winter during the town’s recent revaluation, said that although no assessors ever entered her home, her taxes increased by $700.

Downs said when she asked Town Clerk Susan Runes how her property had been assessed without her presence, she was told that an assessor had driven by the house and taken pictures.

Downs said she took this information to Gov. John Baldacci, a friend of hers, who advised her to contact her legislators.

Another friend of Downs’, a lawyer as well as a legislator, told her that the town was required to do, in Downs’ words, “a real evaluation of the whole property, not a fly-by, snap-a-picture thing.”

Downs said she had been told by Runes that there were some people who hadn’t been paying their fair share of taxes. Since most of the families she has spoken with saw only a $115-$120 tax increase, Downs told selectmen, “I just want to know how I got picked” to pay higher taxes.

Chairman Cliff McNeil told Downs that the revaluation process had involved more than “arbitrarily choosing one house over another.” He added that since the town’s total valuation had increased from $33 million to $48 million, “proportionately, everyone has to assume some of that value.”

McNeil recommended that Downs start the abatement process.

Selectman Mark Silber noted that the town’s last revaluation had been done 12 years ago, and that changes in property value reflected a 12-year difference, not a sudden change from last year. He said that some of the town’s residents had seen tax increases of $700, adding “mine went up a lot.”

After the meeting, Administrative Assistant Cynthia Norton said Downs’ revaluation had been done by applying the new tax schedules to existing information on Downs’ property card.

In other business, selectmen readdressed problems with the town’s roads. Resident Stephen Peters complained that traffic on Route 219 is still too fast through the village.

“It isn’t the traffic, it’s the speed,” he said, adding that the noise of speeding cars wakes him at 4:30 every morning.

Norton said she would send a letter to the state about the problem.

The corner of Bonney Road and Trenoweth Road continues to be a problem for the town. A school bus driver has complained that trees on the sharp curve block visibility, making crossing Bonney Road to Trenoweth dangerous.

SAD 39 Superintendent Rick Colpitts has said he will contact the property owners about the trees. Selectman Tom Standard will make a follow-up call.

Selectmen discussed possible budget cuts for the 2005-2006 fiscal year. Runes had informed the board at its last meeting that $130,000 would have to be cut if the Palesky tax-cap initiative passes.

Silber admitted that he had found only $72,000 that he would be willing to cut from the budget. “We have been very scrupulous over the years,” he said, “very tight-fisted.”

Standard’s proposed budget included few cuts, and actually increased the amount given to some departments.

“We cut what we can, and then we start charging dump fees,” he said. He also expected that the county, school district, and ambulance service would take a share of the cuts.

“They’re good people; they’re going to share the pain,” he said.

The board will hold a public meeting to discuss the tax cap on Oct. 27.


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