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Westport First Selectwoman Comes Under Tough Questioning on Reval

In what may have been her toughest brown bag lunch since coming to office in 1997, Westport First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell today came under persistent criticism over the town’s controversial 2003 property assessment.

At the end of more than 90 minutes of alternately listening and responding to her critics, the normally cheerful chief executive who is running as the Democratic candidate for congress in the 4th District was clearly exasperated.

“It’s a lousy process,” she said, referring to the state-mandated revaluation of the town’s properties. “It’s no fun for any of us. We’re trying to do the best job we can.”

At another point she said, “There is no reason anyone wants to do a bad job here,” and “You’d be crazy to think that I wouldn’t be responsive.”

Farrell was asked repeatedly about a revised property assessment list which was approved by Assessor Glenn Werfelman Saturday to meet a state deadline but which has yet to be made public in full via the Internet as the initial version was Jan. 20.

“I hope to have it out by Friday,” said Farrell, who explained that Town Hall employees were still working to make it as accurate as possible.

She did not address why the list available to the public on a computer in the assessor’s office was not yet deemed worthy of wider distribution on the Internet.

A number of residents had used the Internet version of the earlier list to compare valuations with sales of the same property in recent years.

This lead them to conclude that several hundred or more of the properties had been under assessed.

Several questioners told her they had seen the revised list in the assessor’s office and that there were still glaring discrepancies between some properties and their recent sales price.

“We’re never going to get to 100 percent accuracy,” Farrell said. “It’s not going to happen.”

She said although she was in Paris this weekend visiting her daughter who is studying there, the revised list had undergone close scrutiny from a number of people.

She said they included Selectman Carl Leaman and Garson Heller, a longtime member of the Board of Assessment Appeals.

“Some additional experience was put against the list,” she said, “It was not just Ryan,” a reference to J. F. Ryan Associates, the firm which carried out the valuation.

When several questioners suggested throwing out the revaluation and hiring someone to do a new one possibly a more accurate and more costly physical inspection of homes ֖ Farrell said there was not sufficient evidence to take that action.

“I can’t say that is an appropriate conclusion,” she said. “We need to look at the new list and then see.”

When Heller was asked whether he endorsed the revised list, he was somewhat circumspect.

“I don’t want to make a comment,” he said. “I have not seen the revised list.” But he added, “I am confident Town Hall will make efforts to resolve the issues.”

The luncheon brought out Westporters who had not protested their valuation before.

Among them was Sandy Yu, a resident of Fairfield Avenue in the Compo Beach area. She said the latest assessment list had raised the value of her property $220,000 over the list of six weeks ago.

“I could never sell my house for that amount,” she said. “Maybe someone gilded my house. I can’t imagine in 30 days the house went up that amount.”

Yu, who attended the luncheon while her young daughter played at her side, said she did not object at first because she thought her assessment was fair.

“It’s scary. I don’t know why,” she said. “I called the assessor’s office and the answer was ‘I have no idea.’”

Adam Sappern of Buena Vista Drive said he was “dragged into this unwittingly.”

“I thought the first assessment on my property was fair,” he said. He said he then received a revised notice this week increasing the value that he does not believe is fair.

“What troubled me was that there was no supporting documentation,” Sappern said. “I went down to the assessor’s office and got a lot of blank stares.”

He added, “I don’t want to make this a ‘me’ issue, but it’s an ‘us’ issue.”

3 thoughts on “Westport First Selectwoman Comes Under Tough Questioning on Reval

  1. Can “the best job” REALLY be done while enjoying the pleasures of “Gay Paree?”  Guess what: we’re not having any “fun” over here on the other side of the pond, holding our breaths to see what this administration has done about an issue that will affect many of us irrevocably: why was Mr. Werfelman signing off on a list that didn’t address the issues, while Ms. Farrell is off gallivanting in France. 4 weeks have gone by since that fateful RTM meeting when the systemic problems were first brought to light. The Mob is angry—the Bastille looms.

  2. Les Mis, by criticizing someone and then hiding behind a screen name you show both a lack of integirty and a lack of courage.

    What you and a very few others ( most responsible people do understand ) fail to accept is that your complaints can’t be addressed by pushing a button overnight. Instead, in fairness to all tax payers, those complaints must be looked at, evaluated and go through an ordered process before a ratiional decision can be made. That is what had to happen, what you were told would happen and that in fact was what was happening.  Perhaps not as quickly as you would prefer but it was happening. 

    Now the decision has been made and as it would seem to be one you’d agree with you may be smiling.

    But take a look in the mirror.  What you should see looking back at you is not the smilng face of someone who thinks they wrote a clever little acidic note.

    It’s the face of a coward.

    You should be ashamed of yourseslf.

    Hadley Rose

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