By Virginia Dean
Special To The Standard
PLYMOUTH— Town Select Board members and a handful of residents struggled to understand the recent increase in property reassessments despite listers’ explanations at a recent Select Board meeting Aug. 6.
“I have had a lot of complaints,” said Select Board Chair Ralph Michael. “People are unhappy, and I need to find out why.”
There are currently 127 grievances filed out of 1,266 parcels, according to lister Carol Ackley who added that during the last town reappraisal in 2009, there were 400 grievances filed out of which 200 went to the local Board of Civil Authority.
“We have had letters thanking us from people who have spent time with us,” said Ackley. “No one likes to pay taxes. You’re not going to please everyone, not if they have to pay taxes.”
Residents are appealing the results of a statistical reassessment completed by the town’s Board of Listers in June.
The listers asked the state for permission to reappraise properties to help get them closer to fair market value and balance owners’ share of property taxes.
The state mandates all towns to be at 100 percent of total valuation, according to town lister Tom Marrone. Plymouth’s common level of appraisal, or CLA, was about 118 percent when listers suggested the reappraisal, indicating that most of the properties in town were appraised higher than their true value, Marrone said.
“The three of us put our heads together about a year ago,” explained Marrone. “The CLA was at 118 percent. In 2009, it was at 95 percent, and, in 2010, it went up to 100 percent. We had to make a decision. Had we done nothing, we believed it would have gone even higher.”
But Michael said that when the Select Board approved the reappraisal, it was unclear about its intent.
“One person’s property went up by over 200 percent,” noted Michael. “He had not done anything to his land since the last appraisal. I’ve seen others with property that has now been valued at a 100 percent to 200 percent increase as well. How do we explain this to people?”
Select Board member Andy Crossman and lister Carol Ackley noted that when the last town reappraisal was done in 2009, there was a conflict between the appraiser and the listers, implying that the old values might be questionable.
“They did want us to be part of the reassessment”, said Ackley. “We were kept out of the process, so we don’t know what they actually did. We now have corrected a lot of what we saw, so that may be why some of the appraisals went up.”
Ackley mentioned that there were also allocations given to certain properties when there was no reason for them. Some residences along unmotored lakes, for example, were given a 50 percent reduction.
Michael, however, was still perplexed.
“It’s now three years later and the economy is worse,” he said. “There was a hurricane that damaged a lot of properties, hardly anyone has touched their land, and the price of timber certainly has not gone up. How can you change the appraisal to up to two times as much?”
According to the 2012 Grand List, some property values in Plymouth have increased by as much as $230,000.
The increase is not surprising to Burlington’s reappraisal consultant Russell Beaudoin who was hired by the listers to complete the 2012 reassessment.
“Some properties remain the same, some lower and some higher,” he said. “It depends on the market segment and how it’s fairing. It’s not a simple formula.”
Beaudoin said that when a reappraisal is done, a new market model is devised.
“You have to run new statistics,” he explained. “You apply that model to the properties that are sold. It’s different from the one applied in 2009 because when you do a reappraisal, you have to start from scratch. You start all over again. And, there is no one value for each property. Rather, there is a range.”
Beaudoin added that the listers have abided by state requirements and procedures.
“The state has guidelines, and they followed them,” he stated. “The listers cannot just make an arbitrary decision about a piece of property. If someone has a hundred acres, for instance, the listers cannot speculate on what to do with that. Everyone must be treated the same way.
“When we took this job as listers,” he said, “the one thing we had to do other than to maintain the Grand List was to operate under the principle of equity. We have to treat everyone the same. We cannot show any favoritism. That’s the way the job has to be done. If one person’s property is reappraised, then everybody gets reappraised. This is a decision that we made.”
Marrone said that the 2012 Grand List has dropped by 5.2 percent. Of the newly-assessed properties, the taxes for the appraised values have dropped by two-thirds and increased by a third.
Nonetheless, Michael asserted that he would follow up on the reasons for the upsurges.
“All I can tell you is that we have a lot of unhappy people,” he remarked. “I need to find out why.”
Michael said that he will work with the state tax department to find his answers. Beaudoin added that he would also help in that endeavor even though state statistics indicate that a typical percentage of grievances run about 10 percent, a proportion that Plymouth is currently at.
By Virginia Dean