The last time the town of Liberty was revaluated, Mario Bros. video game had just been released, Ronald Reagan was in office and the Chevrolet Chevette was a popular car of the day.

Now, Liberty is in the midst of a town-wide reassessment that began Aug. 1, 2018. The town held an informational meeting Feb. 11 with Garnett Robinson of Maine Assessment & Appraisal Services, who, together with the selectmen, is working to bring uniformity to property values.

The last complete revaluation was 35 years ago, in 1983, according to town officials, and much has changed. Town selectmen also serve as assessors.

Robinson said there is "a lot of inequity" in how assessments have been done in the past, particularly for owners of multiple parcels. Under state law, a home and the owner's contiguous unimproved parcels of land can be valued as a single parcel if each parcel is 5 or more acres, the owner consents to valuing the parcels as one, and the owner certifies that the parcels are not held for sale and are not subdivision lots.

But, because of a recent court case, Robinson said there could be tax changes for owners of multiple contiguous (abutting) lots.

In Petrin v. Town of Scarborough, 2016, the court found that Scarborough's assessment method for separate but abutting parcels resulted in "unequal apportionment" in which similar abutting lots were taxed differently — one as "excess land" and one as a potential house lot.

Liberty Town Administrator Kenn Ortmann said residents who own multiple contiguous lots, by combining parcels to receive one tax bill, can minimize tax costs. He said the major benefit of combining lots is there is only one "first acre," as opposed to multiple "first acres."

"This is the highest valued acreage (the first acre)," he said, "so having the rest of the property valued as 'excess' can minimize tax costs."

He went on to say if a property owner has no intention of selling any contiguous parcels, "it makes sense to combine the lots and pay less in taxes."

"Many cases have some unique aspect," Ortmann said, "which is why I strongly recommend property owners consult with their attorney and/or financial planner to ensure they are making decisions consistent with their best interests."

If property owners do not wish to consult a lawyer, they may provide written documentation to the selectmen about how they want their property handled. A sample letter with required information is available at the Town Office website (under assessing & taxes) to request lot combinations. Property owners are required to alert selectmen prior to April 1, the official state assessment date as set by law.

"We do want something in writing to help ensure the wishes of the property owner are accurately reflected in our records," Ortmann explained.

To qualify for this process and be considered contiguous and in the same ownership, properties must be owned in same manner on each deed (i.e., if one deed lists both husband and wife as owners, both names must appear and be identical on all deeds for contiguous properties — additional deeds cannot show just one spouse, or a trust, as owner).

If their land is part of a recorded subdivision, property owners should check with the town Planning Board.

"The goal is to comply with the court case and to make sure our tax records and maps are as accurate as possible," Ortmann said. "It may also be that there are quite a few cases where the property owner already decided to combine lots but that information didn't make it into our electronic records or onto our tax maps."

Ortmann also said, in an email, "An attorney is not needed for our purposes. However, some folks might want their decision codified in a new deed to avoid any future questions by buyers or lending institutions issuing a mortgage on the property.

"We're not trying to tell property owners what they have to do," he said. "We are trying to figure out what people want."

Over the summer, Robinson will send out information cards to property owners for the purpose of ensuring all listed data is correct. If there are discrepancies, he asks property owners to alert selectmen right away. Tax bills due in October will reflect these changes.

Maine Assessment's Robinson, together with Ortmann and the selectmen, have designed an informational guide that illustrates what options are available to property owners. The guide can be found on the Town of Liberty website, libertymaine.us under assessing & taxes/revaluation/Tool to evaluate options for multiple lots on one tax bill.

Ortmann acknowledged the information can be overwhelming and encouraged any property owner who has questions about the process to get in touch with the Town Office.

Liberty selectmen meet Mondays at 7 p.m. at the Town Office. Ken Ortmann typically is in the office from 3 to 10 p.m. on Mondays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. To reach the selectmen or the town administrator, call 589-3014 or email libselectmen@fairpoint.net or libertymaineta@gmail.com.