May 9, 2009

UPDATED: Correction on Property Taxes

Justin Katz

Based on conversation here and here, it appears that I was wrong to state that "a new methodology will skew taxes toward waterfront properties." Several people who are typically more specifically knowledgeable about town financial matters made statements that I apparently took too literally.

That said, Tiverton Tax Assessor David Robert has strangely refused to answer, here, direct questions about the process, a decision that I attribute more to my local reputation than to his having anything to hide. (I suspect that, in certain circles, I'm taken to be much more of a conniver than I actually am.)

What I'm trying to determine is whether a decreasing pool of sales from which to determine trends has resulted in differing bases for different neighborhoods. I'd welcome feedback from folks familiar with the controversy in Barrington, especially if it might pertain to the varying results in Tiverton.

ADDENDUM 05/09/09 2:14 p.m.:

After conversation with Tax Assessor David Robert after today's financial town meeting, I'm persuaded that nothing different was done that unfairly skewed the revaluation results... at least any more than is always the case.

In essence, all sales forming the basis for the revaluation were in town. In cases in which a subsection of houses had insufficient sales to make reassessments valid, the assessor calculated based on overall sales and the typical ratio of that neighborhood to the overall. (I'm summarizing the effect, here, and may not be to-the-letter accurate about the procedure as implemented.)

I'd argue that this methodology is inherently unfair, inasmuch as a neighborhood with too few sales can't even be said to have kept up with the values of the rest of the town. If a dozen houses sell in my working class neighborhood at a 10% decrease from previous assessments, but no houses sell down the hill from me, closer to the water, one cannot infer that they would have sold at that 10% decrease. Indeed, they might well have sold only if offered at a 50% decrease, which means that their value is unfairly assessed to have held.

That said, it would be difficult (mathematically or politically) to come up with a number that adjusts for sales that didn't happen. The town could investigate the prices that the houses weren't getting, but that would only give one a maximum and, as a matter of principle, bases taxes on prima facie unrealistic home values.

Whatever the case, I was unequivocally wrong to assert a change in methodology.

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Justin: Thanks for your update. The revaluation process does have limitations as it stands today, but given the limited resources, both financially and data wise, the model that Rob spoke of is just about as good as it's going to get. There are some advances that my office will explore as far as statistical modeling, but this will take time and testing. Then, we can talk about a new methodology. Again, revals are part art as are 'regular' appraisals. If 3 appraisers were to assign a value to your own home, I'm sure you'd get 3 different results. The hope is that they're all in the same ballpark (not the new Yankee Staduim); just as the reval number should be a fair representation of your home's market value within an acceptable statistical acceptable range. Regards.

Posted by: David Robert - Tiverton Assessor at May 9, 2009 4:59 PM
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