ROCKLAND, Maine — While expressing sympathy with their argument, a Rockland board rejected Wednesday evening the contention by the owners of a historic inn that the city’s property tax assessment policy is discriminatory.
The Rockland Board of Appeals voted 3-0 to deny the abatement request by the Berry Manor Inn. Co-owner Cheryl Michaelsen contended during her presentation to the board that it was discriminatory for the city to tax the personal property associated with the Berry Manor Inn while not taxing the many people who regularly rent out rooms in their homes or entire homes on a short-term basis.
Board member Nate Davis said that the standard that Michaelsen had to meet to show the city was discriminatory was a tough one to reach and that she had not reached that high bar.
Board member Jeffrey Boggs said he sympathized with Michaelsen but also voted to reject the appeal.
Michaelsen maintained that by failing to tax the personal property of people who are running a business but are not licensed by the city, the tax burden is being pushed on the remainder of the taxpayers.
The city council debated licensing short-term vacation rentals for 15 months before adopting an ordinance in April that will require all people who are renting out rooms or homes for less than a month at a time to register with the code officer by Nov. 1. There is no fee yet attached to registering.
Even without the registration, Michaelsen said, municipal officials are aware of many people who are operating these types of businesses but do not tax them.
Michaelsen said this goes against the effort of the city to tax businesses for personal properties. She specifically referred to the assessor’s weekly report from March 11 that stated that the office was working to identify any new or existing businesses which had not filed their personal property declarations to the city.
“If you see a new business, please feel free to reach out to me about it. All businesses in Rockland are required to declare their business personal property regardless of the size of
the business,” the assessor’s office report stated.
Michaelsen said there were 89 residential units being rented in Rockland through websites.
The Berry Manor Inn owner pointed out that there is an out-of-state resident who owns three houses on Samoset Road and rents them out on a short-term basis throughout the year.
“How can his property be considered residential when he doesn’t live there?” she said, adding that she lives in her bed-and-breakfast.
The city has assessed the personal property — furniture, appliances and fixtures — of the Berry Manor Inn at $58,300, which resulted in a tax bill of $1,236 for 2015-2016.
City Attorney Kevin Beal and former Rockland Assessor Dennis Reed, who is serving as a consultant for the city, made the case that the city had not acted in a discriminatory manner.
Reed pointed out that he worked to make the assessments fair and equitable. He said he sought information on personal property of places that were licensed businesses but not from single-family residences. He pointed out that single-family residences for which owners rented out rooms of the entire homes for short-term rentals were not required to be licensed or permitted as of April 1 last year, which is the date that assessments are based.
The personal property in residences is exempt from the property tax, he said.
After the vote, Michaelsen said she was happy the city was at least requiring people renting rooms and homes for short-term vacation rentals to register with the city.
Michaelsen and co-owner Michael LaPosta have also filed a request for an abatement for the historic Talbot Home, which they purchased in December 2014. The board has not yet held a hearing on that request.