OLD TOWN – The city’s long tax fight with former mill owner Expera took another odd twist last week, with the Board of Property Tax Review apparently reversing itself on a previous decision, setting the stage for more potential legal action.

Expera had bought the mill at a bankruptcy sale in 2014 before closing and selling the property within two years. During that short time, however, Expera sought a huge reduction in its 2014 and 2015 taxes for the mill, claiming the property was only worth about 20 percent of the city’s assessed value. That led to the taxes being appealed, and hearings before The State Board of Property Tax Review; those hearings were held in 2016, with deliberations wrapping up in the winter of 2017.

At that time the board agreed an adjustment was needed for 2014 taxes, although nowhere nearly the amount sought by Expera. That decision said the city needed to make an additional tax refund to Expera for tax year 2014, of approximately $50,000; had the board ruled entirely in Expera’s favor, the city could have been out $600,000.

The board issued the written version of its decision in May 2017, but Emera filed a last minute appeal, sending the case to Maine Superior Court Justice William Anderson, who didn’t hear arguments for nearly a year; after reviewing the case Anderson sent it back to the board for review, concluding that assessments of the mill were manifestly wrong, that Expera had demonstrated in court proceedings that the property was overvalued in 2014 and 2015, and that the State Board of Property Tax Review had not given enough weight to the sale price of the mill to and by Expera in its deliberations.

That ruling by Anderson came last August; the Board of Property Tax review, however, meets sporadically; it finally gathered last week, doing what appears to be a complete turn from its previous decision.

According to City Assessor Travis Roy, the full details of the board’s decision will come in writing in the near future. But in a nutshell, the board voted to change the value of the mill for the city assessment for the mill for April 2014 and 2015 to $10.5 million.

“The same board had previously stated that (Expera) had failed to prove that an April 1, 2014 value of just over $16 Million and an April 1, 2015 value of just over $25 Million were manifestly wrong, and therefore those assessments would stand,” said Roy. “The Board used a December 2014 taxpayer’s appraisal and bankruptcy court sale price of $10.5 Million of a closed cold pulp mill to justify the stated value as of April 1, 2014 of a running pulp mill. The sale occurred 8 months after the assessment date.”

That decision, said city officials, could have a dangerous precedent, allowing assessment values to be cherrypicked for most favorable terms.

“We do not agree with the approach the Board took, and we are going to meet with legal counsel and the City Council and discuss our next steps,” said Roy. That discussion is planned for the counsel’s Aug. 5 meeting.

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