Maine Supreme Court rules Aroostook developer can appeal tax abatement denial before commissioners

7 months ago

CARIBOU, Maine – The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that an Aroostook County property owner will be allowed to appeal a tax abatement denial before the county commissioners.

In 2021, Dana Cassidy requested a partial tax abatement on commercial property he owns in Caribou, which is valued at over $1 million. When the city’s board of assessors denied the abatement, Cassidy appealed that decision to Aroostook County Commissioners. The commissioners claimed they lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

Justice Stephen Nelson later ruled in Superior Court that the commissioners erred in their judgment and ordered they hear Cassidy’s appeal. The commissioners appealed that decision, bringing the case before the Maine Supreme Court in September 2023. The Supreme Court issued its ruling on Nov. 9.

Cassidy is most known locally for owning the Aroostook Centre Mall in Presque Isle, but that property was not involved in Caribou’s tax assessment or the Supreme Court case.

Aroostook County’s attorneys Michael Lichtenstein and Peter Marchesi argued that Maine statute did not make it clear who Cassidy needed to seek out after hearing the Caribou board of assessor’s denial.

State law allows property owners with more than $1 million in commercial property to appeal a board of assessor’s denial to a board of assessment review but Caribou does not have a review process in place. 

In that scenario, a property owner “may apply to the county commissioners within 60 days” after hearing the board of assessor’s decision or “60 days after the application is deemed to have been denied,” according to state law.

Lichtenstein and Marchesi said that the word “may” does not necessarily demand that Cassidy appeal to the county commissioners rather than the Maine State Board of Property Tax Review, who they said typically hears appeals for commercial property valued at over $1 million.

Maine Supreme Court justices concluded that “may” gives property owners a choice in who they seek out for an abatement appeal.

“We conclude that the statute is clear [and] allows a property owner to appeal an abatement decision directly to county commissioners or the State Board of Property Tax Review when the municipality does not have a board of assessment review,” the justices wrote in their decision.