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WVN #227: Errors raise tax fairness questions

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, As Wayland faces a likely override vote in April, thousands of errors in assessment data call into question the accuracy and fairness of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 14, 2008
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      As Wayland faces a likely override vote in April, thousands of
      errors in assessment data call into question the accuracy and
      fairness of the latest property tax bills.

      Some Wayland property owners are shocked and angry at
      assessments that have doubled and more. But if you're a typical
      property owner the odds are you saw a decrease in assessed
      value and a payment that is either up or down by a plausible
      amount. Even if your bill seems reasonable, you would be well
      advised to look at the underlying data. You may find that the
      square footage listed for you house is understated by 50 percent
      or more.

      The deadline for filing an abatement request is Feb. 1. You don't
      have to have your case fully prepared by that time. Filing by the
      deadline is the only way to protect your right to ask for a change.
      After you file for an abatement and before a hearing, the
      assessor's office will inspect your property.

      This newsletter will try to answer basic questions and point to
      resources where you can get help.

      First, note that the bill due Feb. 1 tells you little beyond the
      current assessed value and the tax rate of $14.98 per $1,000 of
      assessed value. (The rate is about 16 percent higher than last
      year's. In a falling real estate market it is normal for the tax rate to
      rise as valuations drop.)

      You'll have to dig deeper to see if you are being taxed fairly. As
      the Boston Globe pointed out in a Jan. 13 headline about a
      widespread concern: "One sure thing -- uneven tax burden."

      The information you need is at the assessor's office in the town
      building and at the town's website
      http://www.wayland.ma.us/assessors/index.htm
      (click on FY 2008 single family home spreadsheet). There is
      other information on the site, explaining in detail the codes used
      for valuations.

      Historical information of how your taxes have changed, including
      2008 figures, is available on Selectman Alan Reiss' website
      www.AJReiss.com <http://www.AJReiss.com>.

      Printed assessment data is available at the Wayland Library,
      which unlike the assessor's office is open on weekends.
      (Copies in the reference section were provided privately, not by
      the assessors.)

      Whether online or on paper you'll find your house listed in
      alphabetical order by street. From left to right you'll see the land
      assessment for Fiscal 08, the dwelling assessment for 08 and
      the 08 total of the two, followed by the total for Fiscal 07. From
      that point, it is important to check the accuracy of basic
      information: land area, dwelling area, number of bathrooms, and
      more. The condition of the dwelling (say, "B-, average") is an
      arguable assessment factor. But the basic data shouldn't
      change unless the house changes.

      The only complete source of how your property is valued is your
      record card, which is obtainable only at the assessors' office
      during its office hours: Monday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday
      8:30-12:30, Wednesday and Thursday, 8:30-4:30 , and Friday,
      8-4.

      WVN readers have reported, for example, being assessed for
      central air conditioning that doesn't exist. But the most
      astonishing 08 errors are in the square footage of dwellings.
      Owners who shared information with WVN joked that a tornado
      seems to have removed the top floor of half the houses in town.
      (The fiscal 2007 spreadsheet is also available at the library and
      online, for comparison.)

      It is no joke, though, that many houses are listed at half of the
      correct square footage or less. Are those with a correctly listed
      dwelling area paying a greater share of the tax burden? Did the
      assessors check this stuff before they issued it? We don't know.

      We also don't know why the most desirable land in town now
      seems to be generally small parcels on Dudley Pond,
      sometimes assessed at more than $100 per square foot. Some
      lots are barely large enough to contain the McMansion that would
      be called for on such costly land. In uncrowded, relatively bucolic
      north Wayland, land abutting conservation areas is assessed at
      a tenth of that rate. Yes, location, location, location, and
      waterfront property is specially valuable. But that valuable?

      There may be satisfactory explanations, but they have not been
      offered so far. One of the five elected assessors resigned
      recently, one is said to be out of town and the board doesn't plan
      to meet until late in the month.

      Be aware of what you can ask from the assessors. In 2004 Town
      Meeting adopted Article 40, which lists the information you are
      entitled to. Ask the assessor's office for a copy.

      If you have questions about whether to proceed or how to
      proceed, the Council on Aging is offering a resource.

      -- Michael Short
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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