NEW GLOUCESTER — Town officials are looking to get three years of supplemental taxes from Wayfinder Schools at the former Opportunity Farm, believing New Gloucester was incorrectly exempting the education non-profit from property taxes on two parcels of land.
New Gloucester assessing consultant Mike O’Donnell came before the New Gloucester Board of Assessors Feb. 5 and outlined a supplemental tax assessment going back three years and totaling slightly more than $8,000 for the two properties, saying that Wayfinder should not have been exempted from paying local taxes on those because other entities had been using the land.
“In order to be tax exempt, you need to be owned, occupied and used solely by a tax-exempt organization,” O’Donnell said last week. “If people other than your tax-exempt organization are using your land, then it’s not tax-exempt — unless they’re also tax-exempt.”
The Board of Assessors voted 4-0 in favor of the supplemental assessment for the two Wayfinder properties. The New Gloucester Selectboard also serves as the town’s Board of Assessors.
Reached by phone, Wayfinder Schools Executive Director Paul Andrews declined to comment on the assessors’ vote, the amount of property the organization owns in New Gloucester, or whether any of that property has been leased or used by other entities.
New Gloucester Selectboard Vice Chairman, Steven Libby, said this week that the board brought the issue to O’Donnell’s attention after noticing some Wayfinder property advertised for sale. Libby said that the supplemental tax assessment was about “treating everybody correctly.”
In an interview last week, Selectboard Member Stephen Hathorne said that he felt Wayfinder “didn’t treat the town very well.”
According to its website, Wayfinder Schools was created in 2011 when it merged two long-standing organizations: the Community School in Camden and Opportunity Farm in New Gloucester. Wayfinder Schools specializes in alternative education for adolescents with the goal of “encouraging life-long learning and providing students with the skills and experiences necessary to connect with their families, practice personal responsibility, and contribute to their communities.”
O’Donnell told the Board of Assessors that the town’s tax-exempt designation for the Wayfinder properties in New Gloucester was not questioned until recent sales. He also noted that the three-year window was as far back as state statute allows for tax supplements.
“Now, quite honestly, we didn’t review this because everyone just assumed all the land was being used for [Wayfinder’s] own purposes — until they started changing the uses and disposing of land and we realized, wait a second, that’s not the case,” O’Donnell said.
Wayfinder Schools announced the sale of property on Short Bennett Road in a January open letter from Andrews and Board Chair Don Russell, saying that the move would “help ensure the long-term sustainability of Wayfinder Schools.”
The letter also says that the organization has “leased the lower campus to other entities” in an effort to use the New Gloucester campus efficiently as part of long-term planning.
O’Donnell, who also does assessment consulting work in other towns, said he had not encountered a similar situation in New Gloucester where a non-profit’s tax-exempt status was questioned by the town and the organization was asked to pay supplemental taxes on some of its property.
“I’ve seen it in other communities,” he added.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
The New Gloucester Board of Assessors has voted to send Wayfinder Schools at the former Opportunity Farm a three-year supplemental tax assessment for two properties the organization owns in town.