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Citizens may apply to have their property taxes reduced if they agree to clean up/improve their property.


By: David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, March 23, 2011, p. 1

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine—The Fort Fairfield Town Council recently reconfirmed their decision to abate property taxes in exchange for property clean-up, but only on a select basis.

The Michaud estate has been trying for years to sell property on Houlton Road, the site of the former Michaud’s Garage and junk yard. In the meantime, property taxes went unpaid and the property went into foreclosure to the town for back taxes. However, the town of Fort Fairfield opted to waive foreclosure due to potential environmental issues with the junk yard that they did not wish to be financially responsible for as owner.

Recently, the Michaud estate found an interested buyer for the land in Stev Rogeski. In January, the town council agreed to grant a $7,000 credit against the back taxes and release liens on the property to Rogeski, should he purchase it and clean it up. Last month, they took advice from the Fort Fairfield Quality of Place council and amended their decision to apply the abatement credit to the Michaud estate so anyone who purchased and cleaned up the property could enjoy the credit. However, they chose not to apply the newly designed ‘tax credit for property improvements’ maxim equitably to all Fort Fairfield taxpayers.

“I requested an abatement of my ‘08 and ‘09 taxes based on improvements done to my building, but Dan [the town manager] told me that wasn’t going to happen.” said Jim Ireland, owner of Four Daughter’s Redemption Center on High Street.

“I’ve spent $5,000 fixing up my property so I’m going to apply in writing for an abatement so I can get the town’s response in writing.”

The Michaud property continues to deteriorate over the years and the town council has been looking for ways to bring it back up to useable level. “The goal of the Council is to have a property that is an eyesore in the community cleaned up,” said Dan Foster. “The Council is looking to see how they can facilitate an agreement to get this property cleaned up and back on the tax roles.”

“If the town’s going to use this tax abatement standard for one property owner, then to be fair it should be applied equally to everyone in town,” said Ireland. “I told Dan if they wanted to help the Michaud estate sell their property, the council should have started abating taxes years ago.”

Stev Rogeski admits he does not yet own the property. However, he is assisting the Michaud estate in their clean-up efforts.

During the March town council meeting, council member, Mark Babin noted that he had a letter from the town’s attorney stating the selective tax abatement scheme they initiated is legal under Maine Statutes, but Babin admits it leaves a lot of unanswered questions. According to Ireland, who has attended the town council meetings to observe the proceedings on this matter, “Mr. Babin is the only councilor who seems to have any concern over their actions on this issue.”

Essentially, what the town council has done is told a property owner in Fort Fairfield that they will credit them all their back taxes and release all liens in exchange for them cleaning up their property. This has caused a great deal of controversy in town for all the others who have expended time and money to clean up their property for no tax credit.

“I bought an old run down house in town twenty years ago and have spent an enormous amount of time and money fixing it up and making it more attractive,” said one Fort Fairfield inhabitant. “Instead of the town council rewarding me with a tax abatement, like the Michaud estate, they increased my taxes because the value of the property went up. It sounds like there is a double standard being applied here.”

During the March town council meeting, Ireland spoke up about how the town manager handled the abatement issue. “I said I felt what he did was deceitful and fraudulent,” said Ireland. “I believe he withheld information from the Quality of Place Council that may have affected their decision to recommend an abatement directly to Michaud at their February meeting.”

“Jim accused me of withholding information and lying which I do not take lightly,” said Foster. “These statements were made as if it was fact with absolutely no collaborating facts to back them up. Unfortunately there are people who believe this and to say the least is disheartening.”

Ireland acknowledges that being an outspoken critic has potentially made him a ‘marked man.’ “I realize I now have a target on my back, but I’ve had targets on my back before.”

Every Spring, Tony Levesque, code enforcement officer for Fort Fairfield, sends out clean-up notices to those properties in town that have issues of blight and deterioration which the town council would like to see cleaned up such as junk, dilapidated buildings, etc. It is yet to be seen how the council will apply their property tax abatement scheme toward those property owners in exchange for a clean-up of their property—a cost that until now has traditionally fallen exclusively on the property owner.




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