PERHAM, Maine — Maine Revenue Services has pointed out missing records and inconsistent tax bills for a period spanning more than a decade in the small Aroostook County town of Perham.
Independent accounting firm Davis, Gates & Alward submits audit reports to the state each year. Over the past five years, reports say the town does not reconcile paper records with town software, does not balance its books each month and does not clearly designate who can and cannot handle tax payments.
Auditors also found some values in the town’s assessing software that did not match what was on property cards, and that a few accounts had not received tax bills for 2022.
The lax recordkeeping, including valuation changes made without indicating who did them and why, stems from a 2008 revaluation. Since then, several residents have reported receiving tax bills that were either inconsistent or that didn’t arrive on time.
Perham, a town of 371, is one of the last Maine municipalities to use only paper tax records, town officials said.
Part of the problem is that no one can find the tax cards from the town’s 2008 revaluation. Municipalities receive new cards after each revaluation to be used in future assessments, Perham selectman and assessor John Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen joined the select board in 2018, long after the problems began, and hasn’t seen any evidence of tax cards from the 2008 revaluation.
Maine Revenue representatives visited Perham March 8 to conduct the annual municipal tax records audit, and on March 17 Tony Pinette, Maine Revenue’s tax section manager for state valuation, notified the town of discrepancies.
Property cards from 2008 are missing and older records are being used, with new land and building valuations penciled in on the fronts of the cards, Pinette wrote. The changes lacked notations as to who had made them, and no data was listed on the cards’ backs to support the new valuation figures.
Pinette did not specify how many tax cards were missing.
New accounts did not contain structural components or sketches showing square footage, details needed for correct valuation, he said. The town also lacked an assessment manual and had been valuing property without it. Maine Revenue officials identified 104 properties the town needs to review or reassess because they had been assessed without the manual.
State auditors provided a copy of the latest manual during their visit, Pinette wrote.
The select board wrote back to Pinette asking how to fix the problems.
“Based on the severity of inequities in property valuations, current use applications, and property exemption documents, we recommend that the town hire a third party who is a licensed Certified Maine Assessor to review and address all findings and items noted,” Pinette said in an April 20 letter to the town.
Former first selectman Roger Connolly, who has lived in Perham for 86 years, claimed some valuations were erased and written over on the town’s tax cards, with no notes on who had changed the figures and why.
Connolly and a group of Perham residents noticed inconsistencies last fall and examined the town’s tax records, which are public. They notified Maine Senate President Troy Jackson in January, who led them to Maine Revenue Services, he said.
Perham’s last revaluation was in 2014, according to Connolly.
“We moved up to Perham in 2020 and it seems like we always get the runaround when we even ask about our tax card,” said Terri Williams, the owner of Rustic Retreat Lodge.
Last year Williams was supposed to receive her tax bill at the beginning of August. She received her bill on Oct. 3 with a due date of Oct. 31, she said.
Several other residents at an April 24 Select Board meeting said their bills had been affected as well, but they declined to be identified or comment further.
Keeping town records solely on paper can be a problem if changes aren’t documented, Rasmussen said. He expects the issues to be remedied with a new software program the town adopted in April 2022 called Trio, which stores records digitally. The program has been adopted by other Maine municipalities, Rasmussen said.
The town will maintain paper records as well.
Selectmen voted to hire an assessor’s agent and the board expects to approve a candidate in May or June, according to Rasmussen. A special town meeting will designate funds to hire the assessor.
“The Select Board is prepared to follow all recommendations given to us by Maine Revenue,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of the story misstated when the town adopted the new software program. Perham adopted it in April 2022.