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Any resident who has received notice that the most recent municipal revaluation could trigger a significant uptick in their property taxes should immediately contact Newtown’s revaluation service provider for a one-on-one meeting — and that call should be made now.
According to Assessor Penny Mudgett, representatives from Vision Government Solutions will be holding those meetings in the Municipal Center main council chambers or in adjacent conference rooms each weekday between November 27 and December 15.
The assessor told The Newtown Bee that this will be residents’ best and fastest way to learn exactly how technicians valued each property, and could provide Vision representatives an opportunity to adjust valuations before the official conclusion of the current revaluation process.
Once that process is closed and residents’ values are submitted to the assessor, the only other recourse to possibly affect any adjustment on an updated valuation will be by scheduling a more formal hearing with the local Board of Assessment Appeals.
Residents can access their new assessment on the Vision Government Solutions website at vgsi.com. Then upon review, anyone who wishes to discuss or counter what they believe is incorrect information should call 888-844-4300 to set up an informal hearing.
Ms Mudgett said vendor representatives, who began fanning out across town more than a year ago to make detailed interior and exterior verifications, were only successful in fully inspecting around half of the homes in town. The balance of the valuations were calculated using a combination of exterior inspections and existing street card information that is accessible publicly in the assessor’s office, by linking through the Assessor’s page on the town website, or going to gis.vgsi.com/newtownct
“Unfortunately, some assumptions had to be made on outside appearances,” she said. The assessor illustrated that by saying if a technician approached a one-and-a-half story garage with an air conditioner in a second floor window, an assumption might be made that it is either living space, or at least finished space, which could elevate a valuation versus a garage with only a peaked roof and no upper floor whatsoever.
In other cases, technicians may have increased an assessment because a homeowner pulled a permit for an improvement that would increase the value. But if that permitted work was never done, and the property owner can bring proof to the Vision hearing, it could drop the valuation corresponding to the unfinished or never started project.
Ms Mudgett said that while the preliminary revaluation telegraphed a grand list increase of about one percent, that has no bearing on the increase or decrease of any single property owner’s valuation.
“It comes down to equalizing,” she said, adding that in the current process, she has seen that while some larger homes that may have previously been overvalued saw some proportional retraction in their valuations, while smaller homes that are currently more desirable from a buyer’s standpoint either held their values or increased — some markedly so.
“We saw some of the little houses, and even what you describe as starter homes, going up in value,” Ms Mudgett said. “These smaller homes are now valued higher because of the current market demand. They are what the market wants.”
She said the vendor based valuations on 95 percent of a property’s market value, which corresponds to 66 percent of its assessed value.
She also said that any homeowner is welcome to bring recent appraisal documents to a hearing, especially if the appraisal and the preliminary Vision valuation are not closely corresponding.
“We encourage property owners to bring all the information they can to a preliminary hearing including current photos, or before and after images to illustrate work that may have been done, or to show that there may be incorrect information on their field card,” she said. “Some people do remove patios, and dig up and fill in pools, so bringing evidence of any changes to the building or property features can be helpful.”
The assessor said she cannot stress enough that until the time Vision closes its informal hearings on December 15, the revaluation process is still open, and valuations that are legitimately incorrect can be adjusted without an assessment appeals hearing.
The most important thing any property owner can learn from an informal Vision hearing is the exact methods and comparable properties used to calculate the newest proposed assessments.
“We’re still in that preliminary phase,” Ms Mudgett said, “so those valuations can still be changed. Those who just accept or ignore their letter from our office containing the new valuations and do nothing will be much less likely to see any changes once the process has been closed.”
Legislative Council representative Ryan Knapp has posted several times on local Facebook pages on which residents have posted complaining about or questioning their valuation notices.
Councilman Knapp responded to one resident explaining that “The state requires towns do a revaluation every five years. Your new assessment will be combined with all the new assessments to form what is known as the Grand List. Mill Rate is a function of Town Spending (less other revenues like state aid) apportioned over the entire Grand List and that number is used to determine each property’s share of the tax levy.”
He noted that property values go up and down with the market.
“It is not so much a question of if yours went up (which is a good thing) but by what percent your value went up relative to the field,” he wrote in his post. “This year’s mill rate is already set so the revaluation will impact the taxes for next year. I suspect some people will go up while others go down just by relative changes to market demand. For every up there is a down (but you don’t hear the people who’s taxes went down complain.)
“My advice would be to talk to your friends and neighbors and try to get a sense of how much theirs changed and if it is in line with what you saw. Divide the number you got by 0.7 and see how that compares to market value. If something is out of whack you should check your field card at the Assessor’s office and make sure they have the details of your property correct.”
If any homeowner comes up with an issue, Councilman Knapp also advises them to call Vision for an appointment to speak to a rep.
“They are supposed to provide detailed info on how they reached the revaluation [numbers],” he said. “Be proactive, the State puts the responsibly [sic] on the property owner.”