WVN #290: Abatement delays ahead
- Dear Wayland Voter,
A $40,000 study approved by Town Meeting voters resulted in a consultant's finding that the assessment situation in Wayland is basically a mess. The April 7 town election ballot includes a measure that would improve accuracy.
In the mean time, the Board of Assessors is swamped with abatement requests, and the process is likely to be delayed.
EXPECT DELAYS IN ABATEMENTS
With various sets of data in disarray, files for particular properties in multiple locations, the assistant assessor on leave, no plan in place for evaluating abatement requests, and a long-time vacancy in the No. 2 office position, the Board of Assessors is in a quandary:
How to process the nearly 400 abatement applications before the Department of Revenue deadline of early May as well as conduct the regular business of the office in an accurate manner.
After much discussion, the Board of Assessors decided to inform the Board of Selectmen and Personnel of its predicament and need for resources to handle abatements as well as other tasks.
For months, the board had asked the assistant assessor for a plan to handle abatements, but has received no response. The assistant assessor, the employee who works under the five elected assessors, has been on leave.
The board has asked appellants to agree in writing before April 8 to a three-month extension to allow it to consider the majority of appeals filed. It hopes to complete the majority of cases in April.
The clock starts ticking for the appellant as of the date of the abatement filing. Thus, if a resident filed abatement on Feb. 2, the normal deadline for a decision by the local board would be May 2 or three months.
If this resident grants the requested extension of an additional three months, the last possible decision date is Aug. 2.
The letter states: "It is the hope of the Board of Assessors that all abatements will be addressed. Therefore, we respectfully request that you grant us this extension as we try to meet this obligation. This extension does not guarantee that the Board's resources will allow us to reach a final decision."
If a resident does not want to grant an extension, the application is "deemed denied" and the resident can go directly to the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board (ATB) for a hearing, or drop the matter.
Information about procedures at the state board is available at:
Thus, it appears some appellants will have to pay the full amount of their next quarter's tax bill, which is issued the end of March.
One assessor told WVN the board will take into consideration common locations and issues shared by many appellants, given the revaluation and new land values this year.
If more residents go to the ATB, the cost to the town could be significant, as the town normally engages an appraiser and/or legal representation to represent it at the ATB. In addition, the assistant assessor attends these meetings, thus taking time away from the office tasks, including inspections for the next year's valuations.
The board made it clear that work on abatements should be performed separately to avoid an adverse effect on the ongoing work of the office.
Current plans call for inspections of one-sixth of the town before the end of the summer. Other towns have already begun work on their inspection processes.
The assessors' office will be closed to the public on Wednesdays, to permit the staff to work more efficiently.
The town's consultant, Harald Scheid, noted he has been unable to administer a proficiency test to evaluate the assistant assessor, despite the fact Scheid has been working in Wayland since November.
His final presentation and report have been postponed until he can complete any outstanding tasks, such as evaluating the assistant assessor.
Wayland is not attracting qualified applicants for the No. 2 office position (vacant for 6 months) and has interviewed only one applicant, and that person decided to not work in Wayland. The office has engaged temporary help to do inspections and office work.
Board of Assessor members spent a Saturday in the office and found it, as one member put it, "beyond description." The Board took steps to synchronize the two copies of the database, and to engage Vision (the assessment data consultant) to extract needed data. Files for properties were located in at least three different parts of the office, making collecting data for abatements more time consuming.
In addition, further investigation has identified data irregularities, and the concern is there are more. For instance, the values used for some frame garages were found to be askew. Also, the files were not showing all the information on inspection visits, and that has now been corrected.
The board decided it needs to examine all issues that impact abatements.
Some property cards show the incorrect (preliminary 2009) value, not the value on which the tax bills were based, so that is also being corrected.
Bruce Cummings, Board of Assessors' chairman, noted that he "did not find anything that meets my standards" in work (or lack thereof) involving: properties near the Mass Pike; wetlands; land valuations; data; new growth; cyclical inspections; and office procedures.
"It's a Herculean task and we need to understand our options," he said.
-- Molly Upton
(Note: Molly Upton, who has written extensively for WVN about assessments, is one of two candidates for two positions on the Board of Assessors.)
QUESTION THE CANDIDATES
You have two chances next week to see and question Wayland candidates on the April 7 ballot:
Wednesday March 25, 7:30 p.m., Town Building large hearing room, League of Women Voters annual Evening With the Candidates. (Coffee, refreshments and the chance to meet informally with the candidates, 7:15.)
Moderator: Joan Craig, Natick LWV. There will also be a presentation on the debt exclusion override questions. Live WayCAM telecast.
Thursday March 26, 6-8 p.m. Live call-in Candidate Q&A on Wayland Cable TV. Host: Town Moderator Peter Gossels. Live broadcast on WayCAM, Comcast Ch. 9, Verizon Ch. 37. Gossels will announce the number to call with your questions to candidates for selectman and School Committee.
WayCAM will rebroadcast both events.
SCHOOL BUDGET PUBLIC HEARING
Monday March 23, 7:30 p.m. High School Little Theater. The School Committee is asking for an operating budget of $31.825 million, up 3.39 percent from the current year.
DOG REGULATIONS PUBLIC HEARING
Tuesday March 24, 7 p.m. The Conservation Commission is considering dog regulations for conservation lands. A survey, to which you're invited to contribute, is at www.Waylandenews.com
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor