County commissioners have 30 days to weigh in on tax issue
CARIBOU, Maine — Amish residents of Easton claim their barns have been over evaluated by a recent tax assessment. Several members of the Amish community were given a chance to voice their concerns at a tax abatement appeal hearing in Caribou last week.
Arguments from both the town of Easton and the Amish were heard in front of County Commissioners at the Caribou Courthouse Wednesday, June 22, 2016.
Timid and soft spoken men from the Amish community defended the value of their barns in front of Easton town manager Jim Gardner and a handful of witnesses.
Costs of materials and labor that went into each barn were compared with numbers calculated by the town of Easton. All barns evaluated by the Amish came in thousands of dollars less than town estimates.
“Do you feel the way things were done were fair?” Doug Beaulieu, county administrator, asked Amish resident Jacob Miller.
“No,” Miller said.
Miller explained that the Amish barns fall in a different category than what they’re assessed under.
Easton’s assessment agent, Garnett Robinson, explained that the town did the best it could to bring the evaluation costs down. The town placed the barns in class D, even though Robinson said the barns are built to specs that would fit a class A rating.
“Our whole job was to be fair and equitable trying to bring down to a grade D … if they’re anything, they’re undergraded,” Robinson said.
“We’re not asking to be valued cheaper because we’re Amish,” Miller said, as the possibility of discrimination came up.
Robinson made the argument that all residents face the same math when it comes to determining value.
The recent assessments were the result of the state noticing the town of Easton hadn’t updated its assessments for over 23 years, according to Gardner.
“Things slipped below what state law says you can have,” he said in a phone interview. “The state wants you at 70 percent and Easton was at 48 percent … Things were assessed under 1993 prices and that’s what the Amish don’t get.”
When it came time to submit documentation for the hearing, the town of Easton provided comparisons of barns and potato storage buildings with similar square footage, according to Gardner.
The Amish pressed the case that their barns aren’t your typical barn — they don’t have electricity or insulation and weren’t built by hired contractors. They believe their barns can’t be assessed under the same standards as other structures in the community.
Gardner made the argument that all residents in Easton need to be held to the same standard, and that just because the Amish build the barns themselves, they still need to be assessed as though they hired a contractor.
“I’m not prejudiced at all,” he said. “There can’t be standards for certain members of your community … let’s get down to it, the burden of proof is not on Easton, but on the Amish.”
A decision from the hearing will be made within the next 30 days. If either party doesn’t agree with the decision, an appeal must be made with the superior court.