Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Westport First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell today announced appointment of a 10-member committee to oversee the town’s aborted 2003 property assessment.
The group, known as the Revaluation Working Group, will be chaired by town Finance Director Donald Miklus
Other members include Helen Garten, Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member from District 3; Rick Benson, Board of Finance member; Garson Heller, Board of Assessment Appeals member; Michael Laux, a real estate attorney; Audrey Magida, a real estate broker with Prudential Connecticut Realty; Annette Fiorenza, a real estate broker with William Raveis and president of the Mid-Fairfield County Association of Realtors; Selectman Carl Leaman; acting Assessor Kevin Murowsky, and Tax Collector George Underhill.
The appointments are effective immediately and will serve at the pleasure of the First Selectwoman, according to an announcement from Farrell’s office.
I am very grateful to these citizens for volunteering to serve on this committee,” she said in announcing the appointments.
“Our community is extremely fortunate to have dedicated residents willing to give their time, effort and talent to the benefit of all Westporters.
“I also want to thank all residents who responded to the townӒs appeal to serve on this committee. It was very gratifying to receive so many responses.
She said the committeeԒs first meeting will be Thursday, April 8, at 2 p.m. in Town Hall Room 309.
The agenda for the meeting will be to complete work on the committees charge and discuss timing.
Farrell said the Revaluation Working Group will be charged with the following:
ҕ Review the events in 2003-04 which led to the one year delay;
Evaluate the process of updating the Grand List by adding in the old building permits;
Օ Evaluate the assessment model used to determine values;
Visit neighborhoods and become familiar with real estate offerings and sales;
Օ Make a concerted effort to have all property evaluated fairly;
Create procedures for future revaluations including a possible recommendation to perform assessments in-house as opposed to hiring a consultant;
Օ Meet with Board of Assessment Appeals;
Review the audit to be undertaken by the townՒs accounting firm;
Establish a time line for the 2004 revaluation;
Օ Report regularly to the First Selectwoman and monthly to the Finance Committee of the RTM and the Board of Finance;
All committee meetings shall be open to the public;
Օ Consider a payment plan determined between Tax Collector and taxpayers;
Report its interim findings to the First Selectwoman by June 15, 2004;
Օ Committee will continue to meet until the reassessment is completed and then make a final report to the First Selectwoman.
Posted 03/30/04 at 03:30 PM Permalink
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Thanks to WestportNow.com for its continued efforts in following this important story.
We applaud the First Selectwoman’s appointments to the Revaluation Committee, particularly (i) RTM member Helen Garten who was tremendously informative at the March RTM meeting in connection with the appropriation of $150,000 to hire outside assistance to clean up the backlog of 1,700 building permits (that should help correct a portion of the under-assessment problem that we have been talking about since the February RTM meeting); (ii) Michael Laux, one of the earliest and most effective contributors to the debate and who pointed out the tremendous under-assessment problems with the J.R. Ryan assessment results; and (iii) Rick Benson.
Frankly, however, we continue to be concerned about the revaluation. We can’t help but remain concerned when members of the First Selectwoman’s Committee on this issue appear predisposed to a particular outcome before the Committee has held its first meeting.
When asked about the residents at the beach whose properties have take a sudden jump in value, Mr. Garson Heller commented to the Minuteman in its March 11th edition (page A12) that “[t]hose people really don’t have a complaint. They know they are under-assessed.” While Mr. Heller is entitled to his opinion, his status as a member of the Board of Assessment Appeals and now the committee designated to review and revise the assessment process to make it more fair and equitable requires that his opinion be supported with facts. And, as has been the troubling pattern in this debate, he now joins others in town government who have felt compelled to opine on this issue without providing any facts in support of that opinion. We hope that Mr. Heller will provide the facts in support of his now public opinion as part of the Committee’s work.
In a very short period of time from receipt of assessment notices (notices that residents of other municipalities received months earlier than residents of Westport), many diligent residents compiled and submitted data to support the position that the revaluation was fundamentally flawed. In several months since that information was compiled and submitted to the RTM, to the First Selectwoman and to local publications, we have yet to have any member of town government tell us why that information is flawed while we have heard plenty of unsupported opposing opinions, as well as public comments about the messengers submitting information pointing to problems with the assessment.
We are appreciative that the Committee will be conducting its meetings in public and we hope that the outcome of its work will help residents better understand the assessment process, as well as ensure that future assessments are fair and equitable to all residents. We hope to change Mr. Heller’s mind about the results of the J.R. Ryan assessment - we may not succeed; however, we hope that he and all members of the Committee will keep an open mind and let the facts lead them to a conclusion, rather than looking to reinforce an existing bias or predisposition.
We hope all taxpayers will be watching closely.
Given the advances in technology I would also request the committee review systems which could be put in place that would flag properties and neighborhoods which have had permits issued or recent sales and create benchmark ratios which could be used in comparing properties and neighborhoods, so that out of line appraisals would be easier to spot. RE agents use comps to determine appropriate sales values. The assessors office should develop comps as well.