2016-12-23 / Community

Board rejects assessment appeal; lawsuit pending

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — If a Tideview Terrace resident wants satisfaction on an appeal of his Kennebunk property tax assessment, he’ll have to get it from a case already filed in York County Superior Court.

At its Dec. 13 meeting, the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen unanimously rejected a separate appeal placed before them on grounds that the town failed to send notice of an assessment change, violating the property owners’ constitutional rights.

On Nov. 7, Tibor and Ibolya Kormendy filed a tax abatement application with selectmen for every tax year since 2013. That was the year their single family home was moved from one tax district to another, fixing an error town attorney William Dale said had persisted uncorrected for about a decade.

According to Tibor Kormendy, the change shot the value of his property — a 2,000-squarefoot home built in 1986 on a 1-acre lot — up $31,000. The town currently has the property assessed at $372,800.

Three times Kormandy filed abatement requests with Kennebunk’s Board of Assessment Review. Three times he was denied. Still, he continued to question the change in his property assessment, and request an opportunity to review records.

That calumniated in an Aug. 8 letter from former Town Manager Barry Tibbetts, in which he told Kormandy, “Please be advised that state law does not require the town to provide you with access to a computer terminal, nor does state law require the town to explain or answer questions about public records. To the extent you have made such requests to the town, your requests are denied.”

On Oct. 11, Kormendy filed suit in York County Superior Court. In that case, which is still pending, Kormandy asks that a judge wipe out the property tax hike and order refunds for tax years 2013 to 2016.

Among other things, Kormendy claims in his suit that the town “created irrational property records,” that it “employed irrational and secretive methods for assessments and tax billings,” that it “acted in bad faith and obstructed to prevent a just resolution,” and that it, “employed unfair and deceptive practices.”

The crux of Kormendy’s case is that the town never notified him, or 39 other residents similarly affected by the 2013 tax zone correction, of the change in their assessments. Because his taxes are paid through an escrow account, Kormendy does not receive a direct tax bill from the town, he told selectmen at their Dec. 13 meeting. As such, he was not aware of the 2013 change until late 2014.

Kormendy claims that failure to notify him of the pending change, and to allow him an opportunity to argue his case before the new valuation was etched in stone, violated his constitutional rights to due process. Although selectmen do not rule over assessment issues, they do have the power to order a change, sitting in a quasi-judicial capacity, when presented with a claim that an assessment was made in error, or changes enacted illegally.

At that hearing, on Dec. 13, Kormendy was immediately set off by Dale’s attempt to summarize the situation for selectmen. The Kormendys, Dale said by way of opening, had been “fussing about their real estate taxes” with town assessor Daniel Robinson. The tax, he said, “went up a little bit.”

It’s not the first time Dale has been called to the carpet for using what some have called “dismissive language” in describing residents appearing before selectmen. Former selectman Rachel Phipps levied a similar charge at Dale when he referred at a July 12 meeting to concerns she raised as, “up here grousing.”

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Kormendy said of Dale’s summary. “You have done quite well talking for me. That’s not right. Let me speak for myself.”

Kormendy said his issue was not about the change in his valuation.

“What I am talking about is that there is illegal action here in violation of both the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Maine, both of which include a due process clause,” Kormendy said.

“That means that before an action is taken by a government agency, there should be prior notice and an opportunity to be heard about it,” he said. “The town did not do that. They just went ahead and made the change and they did not even notify me. There was not even a notice afterward that they did this. So, it was done in a clandestine manner and I think it was done with a purpose to preempt a review.”

Kormendy also claimed he ran into “a continuous obstruction” when trying to obtain information from the town about the assessment change.

“It was obstruction after obstruction after obstruction, and I was specifically denied information,” he said. “Due process would require transparency. I should be able to ask the town, why did you do this? How did you do it? None of that was possible. Instead, It was said I was harassing people. Yes, I am called a harasser. The whole town is under lock-down. They’re not allowed to talk to me.”

Dale said he did indeed advise selectmen and town officials not to discuss issues further with Kormendy in light of his lawsuit. That policy held true when Kormendy was at the appeal stage.

In a Sept. 13 letter, Robinson declined to answer questions, writing, “As you have a case pending before the Board of Assessment Re- view, counsel has advised me that it is inappropriate to engage in communications regarding the merits of your case. Whatever questions you have may be brought to the board’s attention at the hearing.”

That Kormendy could not get answers to questions while in the midst of appeals, and following his filing of a lawsuit, did not appear to phase selectmen.

“When a suit is brought against the town, that is fundamentally a zipper on everybody’s lips. We’re not going to say anything to anybody,” Chairman Richard Morin said. “If you have an issue with how your assessment was done, that’s a court matter. That’s not a board of selectmen matter.”

Dale said in his opening remarks that the types of corrections the board could make are limited to illegal actions such as if an assessment was changed based on a property owner’s race or gender.

Dale said Maine and U.S. law do require advance notice if a property right is to be deprived. However, as a matter of taxation, “there is nothing in the law,” he said, which compels a town to send notice of a change in assessment, either before or after the fact.

“That’s because there is an adequate post-deprivation remedy — a remedy after fact. Namely, if you get a tax bill and you don’t like it, everybody has a right to appeal that. And, if that doesn’t work, you can go to court. But the town has a right to change it. In fact, it has an obligation to change it.”

The town must update assessments to reflect 100 percent of market value, Dale said, and property owners have 185 days to appeal any new number assigned.

Dale said Kormendy and 39 neighbors benefited from having been assessed in the wrong tax zone “for 10 years,” prior to the edit that bumped up their property values.

Kormendy did appear to draw some apparent interest from selectman when he pointed out that notices sent to property owners in advance of the 2003 town-wide revaluations advised they were sent in accordance with state law.

Both Selectmen Christopher Cluff and Shiloh Schulte questioned if Kormendy should have been sent the same advance notice in 2013 that he claimed to have received in 2003. Cluff, in particular, asked to see a copy of the 2003 notice.

“That’s the issue at hand here, that we didn’t follow our procedures,” Cluff said.

However, Dale advised sending notices when undertaking a town-wide revaluation, “is done as a practical matter, not as a legal requirement.”

Ultimately, selectmen voted unanimously to reject Kormendy’s abatement request, “based on this board’s lack of jurisdiction.”

“We’re here for a matter that is beyond the scope of this board,” Morin said.

“I do think you have jurisdiction. You must deal with legality,” Kormendy countered.

“I don’t think this is the venue for this. This is a court matter,” Morin said.

In a Dec. 19 email, Kormendy lamented the decision, and its potential cost to his fellow taxpayers.

“As I see it, in the town offices, they are all one colluding team,” he wrote. “None of them are independent. All have no intent to listen, or to act for justice, only intent to deny, mislead and obstruct.

“The town’s continued opposition against me costs the town’s taxpayers a lot of money, but obviously the town officials do not care,” he said. “Why should they, the wasted money does not come out of their personal pockets.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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