Job well done

Anyone visiting the Thomaston Village Cemetery will be impressed and proud of its appearance, for despite the prolong period of wet weather, the long grass has been expertly mowed. Also, the grass around the headstones and footstones has been neatly trimmed. We can thank Peter Lammert and his staff for their splendid work.

Beniah C. Harding
Thomaston

Unfair assessments

As Stephen Betts reported in your May 20 edition, the mission of Aldersgate United Methodist is currently threatened by a tax assessment by the city of Rockland that represents a 166 percent increase in the valuation of our property since 2003. In addition, the assessor has asserted that the property outside the footprint of the church, which had always been exempt, is now subject to tax, and has assessed this land at $600,000 — a 20-fold increase in the value of this property since we purchased it in 1994. He has informed us that he would value the total church property at over $1 million.

Our church had been exempt from taxation until we built a parsonage on our land in 2003. The original assessment on the building and the land seemed fair, and we paid our taxes.  The revaluation of 2005, which impacted most property owners in Rockland, increased the assessment by 30 percent, and prompted the church to sell off two-thirds of the parsonage parcel. Valuation of the remaining parcel, which now included the parsonage, our driveway, and a portion of our parking lot, increased by 37 percent in 2006, 31 percent in 2007, and 20 percent in 2008. We decided to separate out the parsonage lot, which we understood to be taxable property, from the property with the parking lot and driveway, in the hope that this portion, containing part of the footprint of our church, would be exempt. While we were not expecting a decrease in taxes, we hoped that we might at least stem the unpredictable and unexplained increases. As soon as the papers were filed for the separation, the assessor met with the church trustees and stated that if they did not reverse this action by April 1, 2010, he would significantly increase the taxes on our property, and then he did.

The church filed two appeals, first on the inordinately high assessment on its parsonage property, and then on the apparently canceled exemption on the church property. The church did not prevail in either hearing. We learned that the city’s assessor has broad authority to raise assessments and to combine or reconfigure parcels without cause or explanation. We also learned that the Board of Appeals is predisposed to deny petitions, and does not challenge the assessor. In the course of these hearings, the city also determined that Aldersgate is not a charitable and benevolent organization (a designation that would have ensured exemption of the entire parcel where the church sits), and there was no explanation offered for the high annual increases in assessed value of the church’s parsonage property.

The trustees of Aldersgate are now faced with difficult decisions. We are the spiritual home of 120 members and we are committed to continuing the level of services that we have been providing the Rockland community, since 1822. The increased burden on our budget threatens our ministry to people in need (children, frail elderly, grieving, emotionally troubled), and our organized support for projects like the Area Interfaith Outreach Food Pantry and the community Soup Kitchen. Our budget now supports the services of a half-time minister and direct financial support to local, national and global humanitarian services.

We do not understand how our rocky, densely wooded, steep hillside property and protected wetlands (on which we are not even allowed to trim a shrub or erect a sign) has become the focus of massive tax hikes. We do not understand why our church has been singled out for canceling the exemption on surrounding property outside the footprint of the church, and realigning parcels solely at the assessor’s decision. If this can happen to us, what possible protections do other churches and private homeowners have in the face of unfair assessments?

As we meet, discuss and pray for God’s guidance, we would welcome the comments, suggestions, and prayers of our neighbors. We are located at 156 Lakeview Drive, Route 17, across from Lake Chickawaukie, and can be reached by phone at 596-5715 or email at aldersgate@midcoast.com. Our pastor is the Rev. Jackie Brannen.

Kathy Lane, chairman
Administrative Council, Aldersgate United Methodist Church
Rockland