Tax Battle Stage I
Eden Hill exists in my own imagination, but I use the term to name the farm that I plan to spend my retirement maintaining. The farm is located in the town of Greenville, Maine and is part of what has been "The Walden Farm" since the 1880s. During World War II the federal government, the State of Maine, and the town of Greenville by "eminent domain" took land from this farm and other neighboring farms and built the Greenville Airport. Prior to that time, my dad maintained a landing strip in one of his pastures, but with the war came government funding for small airports such as the Greenville airport.
The Walden Farm was broken into three sections by this 1940s airport project. One section is still in use as airport property and includes the north end of the secondary runway, part of the flightline, and property on which a half dozen hangers sit.
A second section of Walden Farm was to become the east end of a third runway, but after stripping large sections of this land of its farm topsoil and standing timber, the third runway plans were scrapped and the land went into decades of neglect. Attempts to recover this land by my father were rebuffed by the town until the 1970s when my father, then in his 80s, was finally granted ownership to this land by quit-claim deed.
A third section of this land was not taken for airport use and remains to this day in the Walden Family. My dad divorced in the mid 1940s and this part of the farm was deeded to Dad's daughter who later deeded it to her younger brother Ed, my half brother.
It is the second section of this farm, the property taken for the third runway, then abandoned for decades before being returned to my father, that has come to be my farm and it is this farm that I have been calling Eden Hill Farm since the beginning of this century.
Eden Hill Farm contains approximately eighteen and a half acres of land, two acres of which are sectioned off by the Walden Farm Road, a town-owned gravel road used to access my brother Ed's farm as well as the west shore of Lower Wilson Pond. Roughly half of my farm is in old pasture land now being used as blueberry fields. When I was a boy, my dad and my brother Hal maintained these fields every few years by burning them in the spring just after the snow melt. Burning blueberry fields every few years is common practice in Maine. After Dad died, Hal and I occasionally burned the fields just to keep the forests from taking over our fields. He died early in 2001 leaving to me what I now call Eden Hill Farm.
There are no buildings or house lots of any kind on Eden Hill Farm, nor to my knowledge have there been at any time in the history of Walden Farm. Yet the tax assessors for the Town of Greenville insist that I pay taxes for a one acre house lot. The official term for this lot is "baselot." As long as I don't build on my property, I have no control of where this imaginary house lot is placed on my property. In fact, there is no need for it to even be located. It exists in the imagination of the tax assessors who are free to locate it wherever its value would be maximized. This practice yields the maximum taxes for the town.
Greenville just hired an assessing firm to revalue the property values of the entire town. Comparing 2006 assessments with recent property sales, some of the property in the town was said to be overvalued while some was undervalued so this new assessment, it was claimed, would even things out. Most property owners, it was claimed, would see very little change in taxes. Eden Hill Farm saw a change in taxes, however, from approximately $650 in 2006 to approximately $1,650 next year. The increase reflects an increase in the assessed value of the land from $29,000 in 2006 to just over $150,000 in 2007.
I met with the assessor on Monday to fact find and check for mistakes. It was then that I found out about the baselot valuation. The assessor told me that if there was no marketable view from my land, the baselot would be valued at $30,000. It is the potential for a view that lifts the value by an additional $100,000. He explained that recent sales in the area reflect the accuracy of his assessment.
In other words, if I were to decide to develop my land into a house lot and were to put that land on the market, I could expect to sell it for this amount of money if the house lot took advantage of the view. My taxes are based on these "ifs."
Eden Hill Farm has no house lot on it. Eden Hill Farm is not for sale.
Let the war begin.