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Assessment questions spark discussion

August 18, 2010
BERLIN — "The key word I use with Avitar is inaccuracy," said Councilor Bob Danderson as he broached the topic of the discrepancy between assessments of multi-family dwellings and single-family dwellings at Monday's city council meeting.

Currently, single-family dwellings are assessed at $65 per square foot, while multi-family dwellings are only $48 per square foot.

"That's a 25 to 30 percent saving right off the top," said Councilor Danderson.

"My fear is you're going to see the burden falling on the single-family homeowners — just the type of person we want to see in this town," said Councilor Danderson.

Housing Coordinator Andre Caron agreed.

"I'm having a hard time trying to figure out why there's a spread of $17," he said.

Councilor Danderson suggested a garbage pick-up charge per unit in multi-family dwellings. He said he believes that this would help offset the discrepancy in assessments, as well as many service such as education, fire, and police, that he says are used by multi-family home dwellers yet are not reflected in the house's taxes.

"Rental apartments is a business and single-family owners should not be subsidizing a business," added Councilor Danderson. "We are going to be scaring the single-family owner out of town."

Councilor Lucie Remillard agreed that something needs to be done to balance out the tax rate between single-family and multi-family dwellings, but does not think the charging of garbage pick-up is the way.

"We're finally stabilized. Let's not start to discourage multis or singles," said Councilor Remillard, adding that if the city were to charge for trash pick-up, it would only be fair to do so for all the homes of the city. This would most likely result in a charge-by-the-bag system like many other towns have — a measure Councilor Remillard is not in favor of either. Additionally, she thinks that it is important to bring these questions to Avitar before moving forward.

"If we're going to question Avitar's decisions in how they're assessing, we should invite them here," she suggested.

The rest of the council agreed, voting to invite Avitar and the Board of Assessors for a discussion of their progress and methods. They plan to address the discrepancy in cost per square foot between multi-family and single-family dwellings, as well as the steep depreciation rate of multi-family dwellings.

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