Since the latest Newtown property revaluation hit home in tax bills, particularly the tax bills of local seniors, Board of Finance Chairman John Kortze has been asked to attend several meetings of loosely organized senior groups to respond to their growing concerns.
The outcome of these informal meetings is a planned senior forum that is set for 7 pm, Tuesday, October 15, at Newtown High School, presumably replacing the regular finance board meeting already scheduled that evening.
The Newtown Bee previously reported that some of the largest or seemingly disproportionate property tax increases fell on over-55 condos according to Assessor Chris Kelsey. Even after canvassing and re-grading 97 percent of all Newtown properties in the early stages of the latest revaluation process, a state audit of the assessor’s property valuations was accepted and deemed fair.
The assessor discovered during conversations with fellow assessors around the area earlier this year that the shift in tax burdens to over-55 condos and other specific classes of properties like waterfront parcels and high-value properties was happening everywhere.
“They did not fall that [Connecticut state] average 23 percent,” Mr Kelsey said. “Many were relatively new units that are still very desirable in the marketplace.” He said since there was so comparatively little reduction in those assessments, when the new mill rate jumped, so did the tax bills.
In examining the over-55 communities and condos, Mr Kelsey noted they held their value perhaps more than most properties in the community. The assessor said he understood the frustration of homeowners whose deadlines to request assessment appeals was March 20, but who did not receive a mill rate to calculate their tax burden until June 5.
Mr Kortze said he has heard similar concerns as he made the rounds of meetings at some of the town’s over-55 communities and Newtown Senior Center. The finance chairman said he has also engaged in one-on-one meetings with taxpayers who have approached him with property tax and revaluation concerns.
But he felt it was time to bring a group of officials including his board, First Selectman Pat Llodra, Finance Director Robert Tait, and Mr Kelsey together to directly respond to seniors’ questions. Mr Kortze said he asked someone from Vision, the town’s vendor for revaluation reporting, to attend as well
It is unclear whether the company will be able to send a rep.
“Tax increases the town has seen in recent years have been on the collective minds of the Board of Finance,” Mr Kortze said. “Clearly the public is feeling it.”
Mr Kortze noted that the loudest voice of concern has come from seniors, who he said are becoming more organized.
“I’ve received phone calls to talk to groups at the senior center, Liberty at Newtown, Regency, as well as from individuals who wanted to talk one-on-one,” he said.
Mr Kortze said he is hearing how seniors believe that the latest revaluation affected them disproportionately, and how the latest tax increases are taking a toll.
“I’m hearing a tremendous amount of frustration,” he said. “So we went looking for some type of venue to have a dialog. It is certainly within our role to get people together to at least try to answer questions.”
Ahead of the Tuesday forum, Mr Kortze said seniors have been sending specific questions.
“We are hoping besides local officials, that Vision will provide someone to explain why senior communities maintained their values while other properties have gone down.”
The finance chairman said that he has heard about concerns including errors discovered on property land records, a lack of information on the valuation appeals process, appeals that have been granted and then denied by the assessor, and a general lack of knowledge about state regulations tied to mandated revaluations.
“I’ve also heard that while condo owners have paid X amount for improvements, like adding lofts in their residences, those improvements were assessed at much more than the cost owners had to pay,” Mr Kortze said. “While the answers may not be well received, our goal is to provide a venue for discussion, and any information on how the town can help with additional relief.
“There’s no magic eraser here,” he added. “To some extent, the impact of reval is a result of the law. And we have to also weigh the impact on all taxpayers if we come up with any ways to provide more assistance to seniors. No matter what, I applaud them for getting together to try and seek solutions. This is a large group in town and they are clearly not happy.”
Issues With Revaluation Figures
Bernie Cohen, who lives at Regency of Newtown, is planning to attend the Tuesday forum. He said that one of the major issues with the revaluation figures on units in his complex involved sales comparisons used by Vision that may have reflected deceiving information.
“Right about the time revals were done, two units here were sold at about the market price.” However, he said, the sellers originally paid significantly below market price — about 20 percent less than the rest of the homes at Regency.
Then, subsequent to the revaluation calculations, three more units that were originally purchased at fair market price were sold — each at about a $75,000 loss.
“But the revals were predicated on the first two units that were sold,” Mr Cohen said, “and we don’t believe [Vision] should have used those two as a fair basis of comparison.”
Mr Cohen, who attended two previous meetings with Mr Kortze, said his owners association believes the town should also come up with other ways to afford seniors more tax relief benefits. He suggested exempting Social Security earnings from the income figures used to calculate local property tax abatements, or by increasing the cutoff figures for earnings.
Other seniors submitting ideas and questions in advance of Tuesday’s forum suggested forgiving the percentage of taxes seniors pay that is devoted to school spending, or capping the property tax of seniors age 70 and older to a fixed percentage of their income.