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Town mulls two charter amendments

By Elizabeth Hebert | Mar 09, 2016
Source: File photo

Camden — The Camden Select Board voted March 1 to hold a public hearing on two proposed amendments to the town charter that would change the way property assessment is handled, and one that would allow summaries on ballots.

One amendment would shift assessing responsibilities from the Select Board, acting as the Board of Assessors, to a single assessor appointed by the Board.

Currently, the Board of Assessors does no assessing — relying instead on an assessor’s agent to do the work — but it does sign abatement documents and the annual tax commitment paperwork, and chooses the property tax rate (or mil rate) from options presented by the agent.

If the amendment is approved, all of those duties would be filled by a single assessor.

Camden's assessor's agent is Kerry Leichtman, who also serves as Rockport's single assessor. Rockport moved to the single assessor model in 2005.

Select Board Chairman John French argued that most of the members of the Select Board are not qualified to do tax assessments, noting that a professional assessor undergoes hundreds of hours of training and must earn certification.

"It makes sense to have someone who knows what they're doing," French said.

French also said that putting the Select Board in the middle of assessment decisions slows the process for taxpayers.

Board member Leonard Lookner acknowledged that the Board essentially "rubber stamps" recommendations made by their assessor's agent, but said having tax assessments on the Board's agenda keeps the process transparent.

"It gives the community an opportunity to be aware of it and gives us a read on what is going on. Once it goes into [the assessor's] office, we don't know about it anymore," Lookner said.

A second, related charter amendment would eliminate the town's Board of Assessment Review, which hears appeals to tax abatement decisions made by the local assessor. Instead, appeals would be sent directly to the Knox County Board of Assessment.

Currently, the Select Board appoints a Board of Assessment Review, which hears appeals when they arise. They have not been asked to hear an appeal since 2011, according to Leichtman.

Select Board members voiced the opinion that decisions by the Knox County Board of Assessment would yield better results for Camden taxpayers because the county board is more experienced and impartial.

"It'll be a fairer ruling for the applicant. And you'll get more consistent rulings," French said.

"The diversity of the committee and the make up of the committee is such that it would make it more at arm's length," said Select Board Member Martin Cates, who is also one of the eight members of the Knox County Board of Assessment.

The final charter amendment to be considered at the public hearing would allow ballots to include an unbiased summary of the issue being considered. The current charter article only allows for a title.

"It's so we can provide more information to the they can understand what they're voting on," French said.

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