Resident agrees to terms on disputed land ownership in Thomaston

By Beth A. Birmingham | Nov 27, 2018
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham The Thomaston Board of Selectmen discusses a proposed resolution to a disputed property in front of a packed house during its meeting Nov. 26.

Thomaston — A Thomaston resident signed an agreement Nov. 27 to resolve a property tax dispute that has lingered since 1986.

At its Nov. 26 meeting, the Thomaston Board of Selectmen approved the agreement, drafted by town attorney Paul Gibbons, and contacted taxpayer Ellen Spring regarding its intent.

"The amount was what I purchased it for," Spring said about the agreement.

Back in April, Assessors' Agent David Martucci presented to the board a consideration for the abatement and refund of taxes on three properties that were wholly or partly assessed to the wrong owners.

According to Martucci, he found a lot of inconsistencies in the way the town map was drawn up when he was looking into inquiries on land in the Northern Beech Woods.

He explained that some issues arose in relation to the fact that many of the lots in question had been taken by the town for back taxes and quit-claimed to others with almost no description.

That uncovered a situation in which the town had taken a parcel known as the Decrow lot in 1936 -- deeded to the town in lieu of taxes -- and the town sold it in 1950 to Lawrence Hunt, who sold it to the Harper family in 1951.

In 1986, Spring and her partner, Donald Sanborn, paid the town $3,600 for a release deed and had been paying property taxes on the lot they thought they purchased off Beechwod Street, which was assessed at $25,335.

In April, Martucci's recommendation was to transfer the title of the Decrow lot to the proper owners, the Harper heirs, and extend apologies to Spring and Sanborn, who is now deceased.

That did not sit well with Spring, who said at the time, "Now it's being said that I owe nothing and all this money that I have been paying in taxes for 32 years is nothing, and now I don't own the land that I paid $3,600 for. I am not happy in just getting back taxes for three or four years. That doesn't seem fair."

Although state law limits the number of years abatement of taxes can go back, according to Martucci, once a problem is discovered, the town has to make the maximum amends allowed by law.

Spring has been trying to negotiate a solution to the problem on her own, making an offer to settle the issue for $17,000 -- on which the board took no action several months ago, according to Town Manager Valmore Blastow.

Instead, in mid-June Spring was sent a check for $1,426.11 with no letter attached, representing abated taxes for the maximum allowed period of three years.

Spring said the amount of taxes paid but not being reimbursed is approximately $8,600, using Blastow's figures.

The agreement acknowledges that the property in question was, in fact, owned by someone else when the town transferred it by release deed to Spring. However, it further states "there is no representation as to the status or quality of title whatsoever by the town," and that Spring simply purchased whatever interest the town may have had in the property.

As purchaser, the agreement states Spring had every opportunity to determine the soundness of the town's title and its ownership rights, and if she had done so, the true ownership of the property would have been discovered.

"The parties agree that the Taxpayer [Spring] has enjoyed the use of this property since 1986," the agreement states.

It resolves to reimburse Spring the amount of $3,600 for the purchase price, and requires her to discharge the town from any and all actions.

In closing, the agreement reads "The parties understand that this settlement is a compromise of a disputed claim and that this settlement is not to be construed as admission of liability on the part of any party."

Spring sat quietly in the audience and left mid-meeting without being acknowledged.

"I'm glad to be done with it, after six months, and I didn't believe fighting for more would work out well," she said Nov. 27.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Reggie Montgomery | Nov 28, 2018 17:20

I would go after all the years of tax payments. I bet the town wouldn't have any grounds to not pay her. The courts would settle it.

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Nov 27, 2018 15:30

Obviously not.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Nov 27, 2018 15:09

A thorough title search at the time of purchase by a lawyer is most appropriate. Surely this was done?

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