ROCKPORT — Following up on a unanimous Aug. 19 Select Board vote, the Town of Rockport has filed a suit in Knox County Superior Court against the school district that educates its students, and the neighboring town of Camden. The goal is financial relief.
Both Camden Town Manager Audra Caler and Camden Select Board Chairman Bob Falciani declined to comment on the case.
The complaint follows the early August announcement by Libby that the cost-sharing formula used for levying taxes on Camden and Rockport property owners to keep the K-8 schools running has been incorrectly calculated over the past nine years, perhaps longer.
The funding formula mistake was discovered this summer, to the effect that this year alone, “A shift of $422,784.40 will increase Camden’s share and lower Rockport’s share,” said Libby, in an Aug. 3 announcement.
Tax bills now being circulated to both Camden and Rockport property owners are reflecting that shift.
Attorneys for Rockport — Eben Albert, Philip Saucier and William Wahrer, all with the Portland firm Bernstein Shur — have asked in the complaint that:
1) the apportionment of costs between Rockport and Camden be based on property valuation and not pupil count and that SAD 28’s, “assessments of local additional revenues based on pupil count violated applicable statutes and SAD 28’s certificate of organization and was ultra vires [beyond the powers];
2) order Camden and/or SAD 28 to reimburse or credit Rockport for all of its overpayments, with interest; and
order restitution, and pay for attorneys fees and other costs.
The suit, filed in Knox County Superior Court on Friday, Aug. 28, along with a court filing check of $175 from the Town of Rockport, claims that the cost sharing formula used by SAD 28 to determine the additional local share of the annual budgets (that share of the budget that the local taxpayers are required to fund absent any state reimbursement for education) must be based on a property valuation method using each town’s property fiscal capacity.
The suit said that in 2015, Rockport’s municipal valuation decreased following a reassessment of properties.
“Rockport staff, who relied on SAD 28 to advise as to the proper application of the funding formula, subsequently inquired of SAD 28 whether this reduced valuation would have any effect on the school assessment,” the said.
It continues to claim that SAD 28 incorrectly advised that there was no effect on the school assessment.
After Camden’s valuation continued to climb in value, “SAD 28 again incorrectly advised Rockport on one or more occasions that there was no effect on the school assessment formula from changes in assessment,” the attorneys wrote.
Rockport “reasonably relied upon these representations,” the suit said.
Now, however, with the assertion that the formula was wrong, Rockport drastically overpaid its share, the suit said.
The attorneys also write that while SAD 28 said its “newly hired business manager recently noticed discrepancies between Excel spreadsheets used by SAD 28’s business office to determine assessment amounts and results based on his own mathematical calculations,” and that the district’s attorney advised SAD 28 to the proper cost sharing method, the investigation continues.
Rockport has suffered “significant harm” the attorneys wrote.
And, they wrote, “Camden participated in and benefited from the conversion of Rockport’s money.”
On Aug. 19, the Rockport Select Board voted to proceed with a lawsuit.
“After executive session on August 19, [Rockport Select Board Chair] Debra Hall moved the Board authorize the Select Board Chair and Vice-chair to coordinate with the Town's attorneys [Portland-based firm Bernstein Shur] to move forward with pursuing the overpayment by Rockport to MSAD 28, including the initiation of litigation,” said Town Manager William Post, Aug. 25. “The motion was seconded by Mark Kelley and approved 5-0.”
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