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Selectmen stand behind revaluation despite citizens' concerns

Ruth demonstrates where “fainting goats” get their nickname, as she falls to the grass at Wonder Fall Farm. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
October 15, 2010
LITTLETON- Representative Brien Ward reiterated his concerns regarding the approval of the town's revaluation to the select board last Wednesday. The selectmen accepted the $745 million figure two weeks ago when Municipal Resources Inc. (MRI) and Vision Appraisal presented the results of the revaluation they were hired to perform.

"I was flabbergasted at the little information we were provided with," said Ward at Wednesday's meeting. "To spend that amount of money for one piece of paper is not good policy."

The town paid upwards of $400,000 to MRI and Vision Appraisals for the state-mandated revaluation.

Ward first raised concerns about the inaccuracy of the revaluation when the selectmen voted to approve the findings at a Sept. 22 meeting. The figure has town property values up two percent from the revaluation completed in 2005 and Ward finds this inconsistent with the decline in the housing market. Ward consulted local land developer Jim Powers on the increase, and said that Powers described today's market as "not what it was three years ago," and felt the revaluation process was "not in touch with reality." Ward added that he knew of 16 property owners who were planning on filing for abatements, one of Selectman Ed Boynton's concerns when casting the only dissenting vote two weeks ago.

Additionally, the revaluation did not include updated numbers for the town's utilities as a different company handled utilities appraisals, and Ward thinks it is irresponsible to move forward without these numbers. "It's not fair to you. It's not fair to the taxpayers. And it's not fair for the town going forward," he said.

Ward's was not the only voice raised in concern. Planning Board Chair Eddy Moore, who also spoke up about flaws in the revaluation process at the Sept. 22 meeting, called the informal hearing held by MRI for those with questions about the process "a farce." The 600 response letters sent out as a result of those hearing were not received until after the revaluation was approved by the selectmen.

"Abatements are coming," said Moore. "Be ready."

Selectman Marghie Seymour, who also had questions about the revaluation process, contacted Stephan Hamilton, director of the property-appraisal division at the Department of Revenue Administration. Hamilton came to the selectmen's meeting to address some of the town's concerns.

Hamilton stressed that the revaluation process is not a perfect one, and it is difficult to fairly appraise every single property without error. He also said there are few people who are qualified to make the kinds of assessments and to develop the kinds of formulas necessary for the revaluation process. The people at MRI and Vision Appraisals are some of those qualified people.

In response to the inconsistency between the increase in town-wide property values and the decline in the housing market, Hamilton remarked that there are many different types of property markets that are all doing different things, and it is dangerous to look at isolated sectors and draw broad conclusions.

Another possible factor in the two percent increase, said Hamilton, was a high price-related differential (PRD) for Littleton in 2009. The PRD measures accuracy in appraisals. Littleton's high PRD reflects that high-value properties were under-appraised compared to low-value properties. Hamilton said this year's revaluation could be compensating for that error.

"You spend a lot of money to get the valuation and you're taking it seriously," said Hamilton, praising the town and its citizens for asking questions while trying to quell their fears. "Perfection is never the standard."

The town submitted the revaluation figure to the Department of Revenue Administration, and they have already been preliminarily reviewed. The tax rate is scheduled to be set by the end of October.

Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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