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Inhabitants of Town of Easton v. County of Aroostook

Superior Court of Maine, Aroostook

January 3, 2017

INHABITANTS OF THE TOWN OF EASTON PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT
v.
THE COUNTY OF AROOSTOOK and Its COMMISSIONERS DEFENDANT/APPELLEE And ELI H. GLICK, et al PARTIES IN INTEREST/APPLICANTS

         The Inhabitants of the Town of Easton (hereafter Town) have appealed from the decision of the The County of Aroostook and its Commissioners (hereafter Commissioners or County) granting requests for tax abatements. In 2015 the Town conducted a community wide revaluation resulting in a town-wide increase in valuations and tax assessments. The Applicants are Eli H. Glick, Uria E. Miller, Jacob E, Miller, Samuel M Swartzentmber, Jonas Gingerich and Enos M. Yoder. In February 2016 the Applicants each made similar applications for abatement of property taxes, (references to the Record appear as R. at__) (R. at 4-18). Prior to their applications the Applicants had each recently erected similarly constructed large barns. The Applicants are of Amish heritage and built their barns in the Amish tradition of assembling large groups of their people and erecting the structures in a community effort, i.e. a barn raising. (R. at 217) In their applications for abatement, the Applicants each similarly asserted the Town's valuation was overstated and explained their varied purposes and uses, and the barns simplistic construction and limitations. (R. at 4-18). The Town did make modest adjustments to two Applicant's assessments but otherwise denied the requests. (R. at 1). The Applicants appealed the Town's denials to the Commissioners of Aroostook County. (R. at 55-97).

         Hearing was held before the Commissioners on June 22, 2016. The Applicants testified at the hearing, supplementing the information they had previously provided in their abatement applications. The testimony included a description of the Amish barn raising tradition, general descriptions of the barns simplistic design and construction with no modern day amenities. (R. at 217-219). And the Applicants each described how much material costs they had into their barns and provided estimates of what labor would have cost had they in fact had to pay for labor, Id.[1] At the hearing the Applicants sought an abatement of approximately 50% of the Town's valuation. (R. at 221). There was no mathematical showing or formula indicating how they arrived at that requested amount.

         The Town also presented evidence at the hearing, which included the tax cards(valuations) for the Applicant's properties and also for what the Town presented as comparable properties. (R. at 106- 121, 124- 169). In addition the Town Manager, James Gardner, and the assessor hired by the Town to conduct the revaluation, Garnett Robinson, testified. A summary of that testimony and evidence includes:

-the Town conducted a complete re-evaluation as required by the State of Maine;
-the assessor looked at all properties and attempted to equalize values;
-the Amish barns are large, discounts were made for material quantity and allowed for depreciation;
-cost schedules (method) were used for valuation;
-sales data of the subject or similar properties was unavailable;
-the properties were classified at "D" quality;
-the barns were assessed as if contractors were hired for construction;
-disharmony exists with local contractors regarding Amish labor rates;
-comparables were provided. (R. at 219-220).

         Ultimately the Commissioners found that the Applicant's religion, lifestyle and community effort allowed them to build the large structures in an economical way, and that the simplistic construction of the barns without modern conveniences have a mitigating impact on "just value". (R. at 220). The Commissioners found the Applicants had met their burden to show the assessments were "manifestly wrong" noting specifically:

-the wide disparity between the Applicant's costs(to construct) and the municipal valuation of their structures, a significant portion of the disparity due to ...

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