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WVN #276: Unpleasant surprises for some in new tax bills

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, The new property tax bills could contain an unpleasant surprise for some residents. As a consultant explained recently, there is no pattern
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2009
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      The new property tax bills could contain an unpleasant surprise for some residents.

      As a consultant explained recently, there is no pattern to valuation changes in recent years. He recommended a thorough and costly procedure to create a more equitable system. That won't be done soon, if at all.

      This newsletter explains what is happening and offers pointers on what to do if you think your assessment is too high. 

      NEW TAX RATE: $16.37

      The state has certified Wayland's Fiscal 2009 property assessments, so taxpayers will see Wayland's tax rate for 2009 of $16.37 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in their third quarter bill, just mailed out at year end. The Fiscal 2008 rate was $14.98.

      Basically, the prior two quarters have been estimated bills. So  owners whose property values have increased will have only two bills in which to pay the entire difference.

      The new tax bills represent the combined influences of the override voted at last spring's town election, changes in land values from the new site index, reclassification of building types and grades, and the usual "yo-yo" valuation "based on sales" in
      2007. 

      "Yo-yo" refers to the lack of pattern in property valuation change from year to year, with some properties going up one year and down the next – by double digit percentages.

      The Board of Selectmen approved continuing a uniform tax rate so local businesses will continue to pay the same rate as residents. The selectmen concluded that this would be a bad time to impose an increase  on businesses, which in any case
      contribute only about 5 percent of tax revenue.

      NEW ABATEMENT SYSTEM

      There is a new system for abatements. To process the expected influx of abatement requests, the Board of Assessors will no longer meet with each applicant. Instead, applicants should provide on the abatement application their complete argument for
      why their property should be reduced in value or the description changed.  The new, pink form is available at the assessors' office but not on the Web as of Jan. 2.

      Residents will also have an opportunity to speak with the assessors who inspect their property once the abatement application is filed. The Board will review the written information along with comments from the inspectors, but will not meet with
      taxpayers individually.

      In the past, each taxpayer's case was heard by a single assessor. Perhaps in the future each case on paper could be reviewed by multiple assessors.

      Wayland already ranks #1 among peer towns in money returned to taxpayers through abatements in Fiscal 2007 and 2008, and in the three-year average, according to the town's assessor consultant, Harald Scheid. His report  can be seen at
       http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

      For more background see previous WVN coverage at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waylandvotersnetwork/message/310

      Chair Bruce Cummings noted that Scheid's report focused on the quality of data and the underlying model. There will be more public presentations about assessments in the winter, covering topics such as personnel. 

      In contrast to the Dec. 8 presentation, when the public was not allowed to ask Scheid any questions, Selectman Tichnor indicated that public discussion would be allowed in future meetings.

      Approximately 450 taxpayers had hearings with the Vision Appraisal representatives about questions and differences of opinion resulting from the impact notices of preliminary value sent to taxpayers in late November. Vision made changes to 252
      parcels as a result of these hearings. The new values are available at the assessors desk.  

      At a recent meeting, Cummings said that even if the state certified the assessments, "it does not mean we don't see improvements for the future." 

      Citing Selectman Doug Leard's comment that his new home was inspected but the resulting field card is incorrect, Cummings added that Scheid's recommendation of a full list and measure within three years appeared to have merit.

      ISSUES NOT ADDRESSED

      There was an apparent shift within the Board regarding sending out estimated third quarter bills, which was discussed  Dec. 1, and the subsequent actions of the board the week of Dec. 15 that focused on firming up the data for the final certification
      required to issue final 2009 tax bills.  

      At the Dec. 1 meeting, three residents pointed out perceived flaws in the current data set. The citizens gave examples of the vast discrepancies in valuation of  land, the inaccuracies of property record cards, and the reallocation of land values
      throughout town, as can be seen at:
      http://www.wayland.ma.us/assessors/2009/Wayland%20MA%20Site%20Index.pdf.%c2%a0

      The board discussed the possibility of issuing estimated tax bills to gain time for a more thorough study of the revaluation results.

      However, by the Dec. 15 and 18 Board meetings, there was no discussion of estimated bills and the board was focused on submitting data for final certification, and discussed changing very limited aspects of the Vision revaluation.

      The Board rejected some changes Vision Appraisal made during the revaluation, such as style of home in those cases where Wayland assessors had inspected the properties this year. 

      The Board did not receive the backup files from Vision until Dec. 15 and bills are sent at year end, so there was time only for a cursory review if the board wanted to issue bills on time.

      Thus, the board did not address major issues such as the new site indices throughout town, and the relatively narrow band of multiplier factors.   

      Why the shift in strategy?  Why not fully evaluate the changes made by Vision Appraisal, which was doing its first revaluation for the town? 

      According to regulations, in a revaluation year assessors lose the option of estimated bills once they apply for preliminary state certification.

      Thus by Dec. 15 the board realized the choice was sending a final bill at year end or delaying the billing.

      During a revaluation year, the process is: apply for and receive preliminary certification, mail impact notices, and hold the hearings for residents. Then make any necessary adjustments and submit the data for final certification.

      ONE-MONTH ABATEMENT WINDOW

      What options do Wayland residents have if they feel their assessments are too high? The first step is to apply for an abatement.

      Property owners must file abatement requests by Feb. 2.

      -- Molly Upton

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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