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Selectmen, residents looking for answers on assessments

September 08, 2010
MOULTONBORO — As the vote nears for final assessment values, members of the Board of Selectmen are among the many who are not happy with Vision Appraisal.

Vision Appraisal Technologies conducted a statistical analysis of town properties. In the past few months several property owners, especially those on the waterfront, said their properties went up 20 to 30 percent or even higher and protested the methods used by Vision.

On Aug. 26, representatives from Vision along with town assessor Gary Karp appeared at a selectmen's workshop that had to be moved to Moultonboro Academy due to the large number of people that showed up. Karp said that as a result of talks with property owners, values had since gone down from the original preliminary data.

Many residents said, however, said Vision still did not explain their process or answer any questions. Many also took issue with how Vision did not directly speak for most of the meeting and how the Board of Selectmen sat in the front row.

On Thursday, Town Administrator Carter Terenzini reported that revised values had been posted online on both Vision's website and a spreadsheet comparing values on the town website along with a manual for assessment practices.

The final values will be voted on at the Sept. 16 meeting.

Joe Quaresima asked why the Board of Selectmen did not give any input at the meeting, where no answers were given despite earlier promises. Board Chair Joel Mudgett said the work was still ongoing at the time of the meeting.

"To me that's like ignoring the audience," Quaresima said. "That to me was totally wrong."

Mudgett and Selectman Ed Charest said the board had just gotten the information that was presented and it was overwhelming. Charest said board members wanted to analyze and understand the information and wanted to allow Vision to hear what the community had to say and the silence was not out of disrespect for the audience.

"We asked to have Vision there to explain," said Fred Cramer. "They couldn't answer one question. We had two people up there that couldn't answer one specific question. I don't know why this town is employing Vision Appraisal. Until we think it's a fair process, we're not going to be together as a community."

Bob Clark said Vision painted broad brushstrokes over the property in his neighborhood, saying there was one property with 400 feet of swimmable frontage on Lee's Pond, while other properties had half the frontage and were not swimmable, though they were accounted as the same.

Town administrator Carter Terenzini said the town does use concerns of individual people in checking the values. Terenzini said none of the properties on Lee's Pond went down, but the poor water quality was not taken into account. After the new calculations, a property that went up to $641,000 from its original $562,000 is now estimated at $485,000.

The selectmen were asked if they were happy with the results.

"I'm a little disturbed when we can go back and find out we should have done it with more sales," Mudgett said.

Cramer said the neighborhood system is problematic in general as there are not enough sales to justify it. Cramer said the town assessor could have handled those values.

"Realistically our town assessor was the sacrificial lamb," said Al Hume. "He shouldn't have said anything but 'These are the Vision Appraisal people.'"

Hume said his home was recently refinanced and he did not get as much in that process because of the appraisal.

"We're not getting away with anything inland," Hume said.

Nancy Wright said she looked through the sheets available on the website and found them hard to understand, saying they were not set up alphabetically or numerically.

Terenzini said efforts were being made to clarify the information.

"We recognize that is not the nest product we could have put up there," Terenzini said.

Several residents asked why the town would not use last year's assessment data. Mudgett said doing so would make one side happy but would not make the other side happy.

Tax collector Susette Remson said the law does require that the town update valuations at least every five years, but the Department of Revenue Administration can order one to be done if a community's valuation falls below 85 percent.

Several residents said they wanted to see the formula Vision used to calculate values and Mudgett said he agreed.

"That's what makes me more upset with this process," Mudgett said.

"I'm not happy with Vision," Charest said. "I have not been happy with Vision for the last few years."

Charest said he was contacted a few years ago by an elderly woman whose property value went up because she was assessed for two acres of land she did not own. Charest also said he agreed the neighborhood concept does not work, saying one assessment went down because there was a foreclosure in the neighborhood but now foreclosures are being thrown out.

Terenzini said the contract with Vision was unanimously approved by the board two years ago. Terenzini also said the contract also has a performance requirement.

"It's very unfortunate that you've become a lightening rod for Vision," said Hollis Austin. "Vision used the Board of Selectmen and the assessor as screens from people they needed to talk to."

Austin said the representatives from Vision did not want to be up front at the meeting, but needed to be front and center to explain themselves and clarify the process.

"That meeting didn't go the way everybody hoped it would," Mudgett said.

Mudgett said the physical position of the board was easier because there were no tables and chairs available for the board to sit collectively.

"I apologize if anyone didn't care for that. I guess we didn't think we were going to have as (many) unhappy people."

The Board of Selectmen will discuss the appraisals during their meeting on Sept. 16 and invite Vision Appraisal to be part of it to give explanations.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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