August 4, 2013

Court settles Lewis Farm assessment lawsuit

ESSEX — Legal action brought by the Lewis Family Farm against Essex tax assessors is settled, with assessment of the property dropped from $6.03 million to $2.3 million.

Documents filed on Friday say parties agreed to resolve their differences without further litigation on terms of the current settlement.

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Farm owners Salim “Sandy” B. and Barbara Lewis were in Essex County Court Thursday for the final order.

Martina Baillie, an attorney representing the farm in the matter, told the Press-Republican that the $2.3 million includes farmland.

Court documents show the farmhouse is revalued at $129,500, down from $413,000.

The settlement also canceled “any and all interest and penalties” the Lewises might have owed for town, county and school taxes for three tax years straddling litigation. 


By court order, the agreed-upon valuation remains in effect through 2016.

The decision ends nearly a decade of marked property-value increases at the Lewis Farm, according to tax records.

In 2004, the Lewises’ farmhouse, land and all agricultural buildings — including three parcels recently sold — was set at $2.95 million. By 2009, that number had doubled.

The farmers filed a grievance in 2011 with Essex Board of Assessors. 

Achieving no resolution, they sued the town.


The court ordered that the town recalculate the Lewis’s tax bills for the past three years.

Mr. Lewis said their property taxes ran between $60,000 and $70,000 annually.

“It appears our taxes going forward will be under $20,000 per year,” he estimated.

The upshot, he said, is a warning.

“In taxing us over the past decade, they have never set foot on the farm. The tax situation is threatening this farm and every other farm. Why? Because the government keeps spending.”


Smaller communities are powerless to change the numbers in state and federal government, he added.

But that means local assessors have to be able and willing to verify their work, backing their figures with facts and face-to-face communication, he said.

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