Bush's retreat in Maine doesn't escape tax man assessment rises 240%

May 16, 1991|By Aaron Epstein | Aaron Epstein,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- The hearts of many Americans would fibrillate if they received the jolt from the tax assessor that President Bush just got.

Mr. Bush disclosed that the property assessment on his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, soared nearly 2 1/2 times -- to $2,196,000 this year, from $892,000 in 1990.

"The city fathers found a new way to take care of the fire truck," White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said yesterday as he released Mr. Bush's latest financial disclosure report.

The new value placed on Mr. Bush's rambling 26-room mansion, which sits on 11 acres of rocky promontory overlooking the Atlantic, was part of a townwide reassessment required periodically by Maine law, said Kennebunkport chief assessor Don Hemphill.

"If everybody's assessments have gone up, why not the president's?" asked Joe Finn, a Kennebunkport selectman, the equivalent of a city council member.

He reported "no excessive complaints" from the 4,500 residents of the seaside resort town, and Mr. Bush isn't complaining, either. "He has accepted this, yes," Mr. Fitzwater said.

And why not? Some real estate brokers say Mr. Bush's house, which he bought from an aunt a decade ago for $800,000, is worth more than $3 million.

How much Mr. Bush's property tax bill will increase isn't known, because the new property tax rate hasn't been set, Mr. Hemphill said. Last year, Mr. Bush paid $10,258, based on a rate of $11.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The town assessor said the 89-year-old Bush house was not inspected to determine its current market value. Nor could he rely on sales of comparable properties, because there isn't anything comparable in town, right?

"That's for damn sure," Mr. Hemphill replied. "It had to be done from the old information. You just do the best you can."

Mr. Bush's financial form also disclosed bad news from the keepers of his blind trust: His holdings declined from $1,275,000 a year ago to $1,243,000, apparently reflecting losses in the stock market.

There was a recession, too, in the value of reported gifts to President and Barbara Bush. Last year, they reported receiving $26,839 worth, including 51 ties, 82 caps, 13 pairs of cowboy boots, many fishing rods and reels, golf clubs and tennis rackets, and a bed for First Dog Millie.

Yesterday, they reported $22,138 in gifts from 84 donors, including more ties, fishing gear, tennis rackets and golf clubs, and another bed for Millie.

There was a $125 teapot from Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh, a $360 "silver pen" from television interviewer David Frost, a $150 "figurine of Millie and Santa Claus" from Susan McLaurin of Windsor, N.C., and a $250 needlepoint pillow from Georgette Mosbacher, wife of Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher Sr.

Plus $204 worth of golf clubs from singer Vic Damone, neckties and flowers from jazz musician Lionel Hampton valued at $410, a "antique toy soldier" from artist Andrew Wyeth of Chadd's Ford, Pa., and casting rods and reels from Dewey Stokes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

What does Mr. Bush do with all those fishing rods? "Well, a lot of them he fishes with," Mr. Fitzwater replied.

Federal law permits public officials to keep gifts received domestically; only those worth more than $100 must be reported. Foreign gifts worth more than $200 must be turned over to the government.

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