BAR HARBOR — The Town Council asked town staff to explore ways to help homeowners who saw their tax bills jump along with rising property values following a recent town-wide revaluation.
“We’re looking into what we can do but our hands are kind of tied,” said council member Matthew Hochman. “But if there’s anything that can be done, we’ll try to find a way to do it.”
Several residents complained to the council at its meeting Tuesday night that their tax bills doubled after the town recently wrapped up a revaluation process. The council brought Steve Weed, the town’s assessor, in for a Q&A session at its meeting this week to give property owners’ information on how the process works.
One of the angered residents was Jeff Cake, a Ledgelawn Avenue resident.
“The bill came in for taxes and it was an enormous shock to us,” he said. The new evaluation is “now making it very painful for a certain class of senior citizen to stay in his own home.”
Nancy Lambert, another Ledgelawn resident, said the value of her property went from about $350,000 to $585,000. She laid blame on vacation rentals owned by out-of-staters for dragging home values up.
The town’s last full revaluation was in 2006. There have been three small updates since then. Weed noted that in-town properties were supposed to be updated in 2013, but due to staffing changes and budget cuts the project wasn’t completed. Those properties – an Ash Street property was used as an example of an in-town property – presumably saw higher increases because they had the oldest evaluations.
“I’m not saying that’s all of it, but I think that’s part of the issue that we’re dealing with now,” Weed said.
Any property owner can appeal their assessment. The cutoff date is Feb. 22, 2022. The first step is to file for abatement with the assessing office.
Weed did note that an assessor cannot consider taxes or a homeowner’s ability to pay when considering an appeal. Assessors can only base their decision on the value of the property and other factors that would affect it.
“That’s state law,’ he said. “We have no choice in that.”
The council, which has been considering new regulations on vacation rentals such as Airbnbs, questioned if those types of properties contributed to rising property values.
“I’m sure it’s an effect,” said Weed, though it is hard to parse that out at the moment because there are no current restrictions on which homes can become vacation rentals. Every homeowner has that same opportunity to have their home become one, making little difference between properties in that sense.
Hypothetically speaking, if the ordinance was passed and there was a distinct line between which properties could operate as vacation rentals and those that can’t, it could cause changes in valuations in town in the future, he said.
Not all tax bills went up and the town wasn’t raising extra money – only the tax commitment approved by Town Meeting, said Town Manager Cornell Knight.
The discussion went on for nearly two hours and council members said they hoped to find ways to help homeowners handle potentially higher tax bills.
“I don’t know if we legally can, but I would like to have the discussion about any ways we can help people out to try and make this easier,” Hochman said.