2009-10-01 / Front Page

Islanders brace for property reassessments

By Phil Zahodiakin

Jamestown real estate values are about to be reassessed, but property owners will have multiple opportunities to appeal any increases in their assessed property values, Jamestown Tax Assessor Ken Gray told residents at a recent workshop.

The Sept. 29 event was hosted by the Jamestown Taxpayers Association, which invited Gray to field questions from island property owners.

Gray brought along Steve Ferreira, a senior appraiser for Vision Appraisal, which will perform the reassessment. The company’s re-evaluation of Barrington property values sparked a significant controversy earlier this year, and Ferreira did not skirt that issue.

But it was the Jamestown reassessment that was foremost in the minds of the 70-plus people who packed the Senior Center. Gray told them that the 2010 property tax bills, which will be mailed June 15, will be based on real estate sales that took place through Dec. 31. However, appraisers will not visit any properties because they will be performing what’s known as a mass appraisal – a statistical analysis of comparative sales (also known as “comps”).

Under state law, Gray explained, towns must perform “mass appraisals every third and sixth year. A full re-evaluation, in which inspectors actually come to the properties, has to be done every ninth year. Jamestown is due for a full reassessment in 2012. This year’s reassessment is not as accurate as a full reassessment because it’s not as detailed, and that’s why we have an appeals process.”

Gray told the audience that the town welcomes appeals because “we want the reassessments to be as accurate as possible, and if your reassessment is based on incorrect data, we want to know.”

Jamestown property owners should receive their reassessment notices by the end of February.

“Once you have your notice, you’ll see a link to the data and the comps we used; or, if you don’t have a computer, you’ll be able to see the information at the Assessor’s Offi ce,” Ferreira said. “Look at the data for your property – things like its age and the number of bedrooms – and make sure it’s accurate. If it’s not, that will be the first data you would bring to us.”

Ferreira, who will serve as project manager for the Jamestown reassessment, said that property owners who had fee appraisals performed before the mass appraisal should bring a copy of the results to Vision Appraisal if the results differ significantly.

A third basis for dispute is a disparity in comp data.

“If you see that houses of the same size and age as yours sold for significantly less than your reassessed value, bring it to our attention,” he said.

If informal hearings with Vision Appraisal fail to reconcile a difference of opinion, property owners may initiate an appeals process by notifying his office within 90 days of receiving their property tax bills, Gray said. If differences remain, property owners may appeal to an independent Tax Assessment Board of Review assessor. If the issue still isn’t resolved, the final step of the process is an appeal to Superior Court.

Several points were raised during the nearly two-hour meeting:

• Certain large properties have been valued at “extremely low” levels because a large percentage of their land has been placed into the state Farm, Forest and Open Space Program, precluding any construction on that acreage and eliminating its “best and highest use” – which, for a residential property, is residential development. In other cases, the “excess” land on a property whose acreage exceeds the acreage for which it is zoned is assessed at a lower value.

• A property with a well and a septic system has many setbacks that a “connected” property would not have, so the “best and highest use” of that land is diminished. To assess the value of such land, “we look at comps in the neighborhood and subtract the value of the houses from the sales prices,” Ferreira said.

• Small – such as 10 or 20-foot – differences in water frontage don’t affect reassessments because the additional frontage does not significantly increase potential “best and highest use.”

• An “historic” designation does not necessarily add signifi- cant value – if any – to a property. “It probably would in a town like Newport, where there is a market for historic homes. But it doesn’t add value in and of itself,” Ferreira said.

• Typically, about 10 to 15% of appeals result in a reduction of reassessed values, although, Ferreira noted, “Depending on the nature of the appeals, as many as 50% of the appeals could change in the owners’ favor.”

Ferreira’s company became embroiled in a dispute over its reassessments in Barrington, where a taxpayers group alleged that its methods were seriously flawed – with the result that the 25% of Barrington property owners whose real estate values increased would be taxed unfairly to make up the budget shortfall arising from the reassessment reductions for the other 75% of property owners. Nevertheless, the Barrington Town Council voted last April to accept the Vision Appraisal reassessment.

Ferreira said, “In Barrington, a group of taxpayers called literally every single property owner whose reassessment went up at least one dollar and told them to [protest their reassessments]. The fact is, it was mostly the high-end waterfront properties that went up significantly in value, so the idea that there were 700 property owners who had large reassessments is wrong and misleading.”

Said Gray, “Vision Appraisal is the largest appraisal company in New England. They’ve been doing this work for years, and I have full confidence in them.”

The next meeting of the Taxpayers Association will be held on Oct. 12.

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