One of Bangor’s largest taxpayers’ appeals for lower property tax bills are among the dozens of cases that have been stalled before a state property tax review board that’s heard only one case in the last two years.
On the line is about $700,000 in revenue that the city of Bangor might have to refund to the owners of the Bangor Mall if the state Board of Property Tax Review eventually rules in the owners’ favor.
Bangor Mall Realty LLC, one of three firms that own the Bangor Mall on Stillwater Avenue, has appealed two city tax assessments to the state, arguing that Bangor overvalued the property by about $21.9 million in fiscal year 2020 and about $8 million in fiscal year 2021.
A lower assessment would result in a lower tax obligation for Bangor Mall Realty, which has argued that the mall is worth less than the value the city assessing office has assigned it, even as Bangor has reduced its assessment of the property in recent years to account for the mall’s many store vacancies and declining revenue.
The Bangor Mall is the city’s seventh largest taxpayer, according to a city finance report published this week. The owners have appealed the city’s assessed value of the property twice since buying the mall for less than half its assessed value in 2019.
In April 2019, the city assessed the mall at $34.5 million for fiscal year 2020, which carried a $815,064 tax bill. It placed a $20.4 million value on the property the following April for fiscal year 2021, which carried a tax obligation of $474,264. Both times, the mall argued that it was only worth the $12.6 million its owners paid for it in April 2019.
If the city adopted the mall’s preferred value, it would mean a reduction of more than $500,000 to its 2020 tax bill and more than $180,000 to its 2021 tax bill.
The city’s Board of Assessment Review denied the two appeals. The mall then appealed those decisions to the Maine Board of Property Tax Review in September 2020 and August 2021, where those cases have languished as the state agency faces a backlog of more than 30 cases, high turnover and vacancies that stymie their ability to hear cases, the Maine Monitor reported.
The state board has eight vacancies, and only held its first meetings of 2022 on Wednesday. It issued just five decisions in 2021 compared to 20 the year before, and none so far this year.
A spokesperson for the state agency where the property tax review board is located said that Gov. Janet Mills proposed funding in her supplemental budget to hire a supervisor and a clerk to help address the backlog.
“If approved by the Legislature, the goal would be to move forward with that hiring as soon as possible,” Kelsey Goldsmith said.
Namdar Realty LLC, which owns the Bangor Mall through Bangor Realty, declined to comment through a spokesperson.
Bangor Realty argued in its appeals to the state that the Bangor city assessing office incorrectly assessed the mall’s worth, and that it was not worth any more than the $12.6 million it paid when the company bought the property in 2019.
“The property suffers from severe economic obsolescence that has not been taken into account in the assessment,” an attorney for Bangor Realty said, when the city had assessed the mall at $34.5 million for fiscal year 2020.
City Assessor Phil Drew said he assessed the mall based on factors such as its occupancy rate and sales revenue. He most recently assessed it at around $15 million last April, and will make a new assessment later this week when a new property tax year starts Friday.
The city reached a settlement last June with the mall’s previous owners when they appealed to the state to lower their 2017 and 2018 property taxes. The city refunded the mall $358,437 on its 2017 taxes and $259,826 for its 2018 taxes.
Drew denied the Bangor Mall’s request for an abatement earlier this month, when its owners asked for a $10 million assessment, about two-thirds of its current assessed value of $15 million.
The mall has 60 days to appeal the latest decision to the Board of Assessment Review.