Thursday, April 18, 2024

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Farrell Seeks to Postpone Reval for a Year, Puts Assessor on Leave

Westport First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell announced today she will seek a one-year delay in implementing the town’s property assessment and has placed Assessor Glenn Werfelman on a 30-day leave of absence.

It was a stunning and unexpected—vote of no-confidence in the controversial assessment and the official who oversaw it.

It was Werfelman who had failed to inform her of a backlog in paperwork in his office affecting the reval that went back at least five years.

The announcement gave no official reason for putting him on leave, but he is known to have been under severe strain in recent weeks.

Farrell’s action, announced in a news release, followed by 24 hours a citizens brown bag lunch that may have been her toughest since coming into office in 1997.

For more than 90 minutes, resident after resident complained that an updated version of the property valuation list was still unfair. A number of them said they had not had a problem with their valuation until receiving new notices this week.

The release made no direct reference to citizen complaints, merely saying that the list required “too many refinements to meet the time frame for implementation prescribed by state statute.”

“First Selectwoman Diane G. Farrell announced today plans to request of the Connecticut Office of Policy & Management postponement of the property reevaluation for one year,” the announcement said.

“In addition, Westport Tax Assessor Glenn Werfelman has been placed on a 30-day leave of absence.  Deputy Assessor Kevin Murowsky has been designated Acting Assessor during this period.”

Farrell said delaying the revaluation for a year “will enable the Assessors Office to improve the grand list by updating the backlog of building permits, and refining the mass appraisal work conducted by John Ryan & Associates.”

She said, “It was not until this week that the revised grand list was available for review.” 

Farrell added, “In consultation with Second Selectman Carl W. Leaman, Finance Director Donald J. Miklus, and veteran Board of Assessment Appeals member Garson Heller, it was determined that the list required too many refinements to meet the time frame for implementation prescribed by state statute.”

The announcement raised a host of questions that were not addressed by the town official, including:

 If the list is to be further refined, will the Board of Assessment Appeals still hold hearings on the values already published?

 Will the Ryan firm still be involved in refining the list? If not, who will be and at what cost?

 Will the town try to immediately seek back taxes from owners of properties which were among those in the backlog Җ or is that effort put off, too?

Reaction to the postponement was swift.

Evan Seidman, president of the Compo Beach Improvement Association, said in a statement that his group, which had been among the most critical of the 2003 assessment, applauded Farrell’s action.

“We hope that the additional year will provide all of our elected officials and all taxpayers with an opportunity to both address the issues of concern identified in connection with the assessment prepared by Ryan, including correcting the tremendous backlog of building permits and reviewing the research presented identifying a significant underassessment issue, and make the Westport assessment process more transparent and better understood by all residents,” Seidman said.

He said his group stands ready to provide research and assistance to Farrell and Murowsky “as they take advantage of this additional time” and looks forward to a “more equitable assessment and a better assessment process in the future.”

Lauren Ives Ward, a Compo Beach area resident in an e-mail message to WestportNow, said, “I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

“The reval was flawed from the beginning,” she said. “My property assessment doubled, but I didn’t protest because I know that beach property is valuable.

“However, when two-plus acres on Turkey Hill Road South are assessed well below my .2-acre on Bradley Street, I take issue with that.

“Those undervalued properties will sell well above what I could ever sell my property for, and that is not fair.”

She added that she hopes Werfelman “never darkens the doorway of Town Hall again” and suggested the town hire an independent auditor to perform a complete audit of his office.

“It is my feeling that this recent problem is only the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

7 thoughts on “Farrell Seeks to Postpone Reval for a Year, Puts Assessor on Leave

  1. Gordon,
    Your “invisible” presence and influence has been duly noted and fully appreciated in every aspect leading to this decision. We know that you will not permit applause at the RTM meeting March 9th, but on the outside chance we might get carried away, please have Al Fiore and Dave Eason on hand to maintain order:-)

  2. Hip Hip HOORAY!  Finally, SOMEONE is listening!
    SO, now that we’ve established that this reval is botched, let’s all work together to get this right…after all, we’ve got 365 days to do it. And let’s be honest people:  how much could you REALLY command for your house—after all, isn’t that the definition of market value???  And isn’t that the basis that Ryan should’ve used to begin with?  Remember:  if we ALL pay our fair share, maybe NO ONE’S taxes will have to go up significantly…

    Today is a great day for ALL of Westport’s citizens!

  3. The delay which our First Selectwoman has requested should enable us to proceed towards a revaluation that neither subsides nor penalizes anyone.  What could be more fair?

    For this reason, I welcome this measure.

  4. A quarter million dollars for a failed reval, $150,000 to address a backlog in the assessors� office, a town employee on a paid leave of absence which will most likely result in termination & litigation, the cost of another revaluation next year� At some point we�re talking about real money here.

    And, greens fees are going up at Longshore this year to cover a modest operating cost deficit.  Perhaps if the Parks and Recreation department were run as bad as the assessor�s office the town would actually kick-in some funds to support one of the most popular (if not the most popular) recreation activity in town.

  5. On behalf of the members and Board of Governors of the Compo Beach Improvement Association, we applaud the First Selectwoman’s decision to postpone the revaluation.  We hope that the additional year will provide all of our elected officials and all taxpayers with an opportunity to both (i) address the issues of concern identified in connection with the assessment prepared by Ryan, including correcting the tremendous backlog of building permits and reviewing the research presented identifying a significant underassessment issue, and (ii) make the Westport assessment process more transparent and better understood by all residents.

    We want to express our gratitude to (i) local news media, particularly WestportNow.com and the Minuteman, for continuing to follow this story diligently, (ii) the RTM, particularly RTM District 1 representatives Diane Cady and Judy Starr, and moderator Gordon Joseloff, for making this a prominent topic of discussion at the February 3rd meeting and for continuing to express the legitimate concerns of residents, (iii) the Board of Finance, particularly Gavin Anderson, for taking an interest in this issue and (iv) the many members of the CBIA and other local residents, particularly Mr. Ward Leo, Michael Laux, Esq., Sal and Martha Lucci, Viveka Kjellgren, Tom Feeley, Joel Gendels, Susan Farewell, Lisa Alter and many others who did the research and attempted to demonstrate, in an intelligent and respectful dialogue, why we believed that this assessment was flawed.

    We stand ready to provide our research and assistance to the First Selectwoman and Acting Assessor Murowsky as they take advantage of this additional time, and we look forward to a more equitable assessment and a better assessment process in the future.

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