The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 13, 2009

Abatement requests up 70%

“It’s going to be a busy year,” said Jim Marchant, Chairman of the Carlisle Board of Assessors (BOA). Requests for abatements, or reconsideration of the assessed value of a property, are up 70% over last year. The board will be meeting over the next weeks to review each request and determine if any errors were made in assessing particular properties.

As required by Massachusetts law, this year’s assessments are the result of an interim evaluation of selling prices during the 2007 calendar year, the last complete year at the time of the revaluation. Assessor Melissa Stamps notes that many abatement requests arise from a lack of awareness that more recent sales activity is not applicable and cannot be considered.

The state rules benefit homeowners when prices are rising, as the assessed value lags current selling prices. However, when prices are falling, it works the opposite way, and the lag keeps assessments higher. But, says Marchant, “All towns are the same way. There are no exceptions to this law.”

Stamps notes that most of the abatement requests are for building lots, and that requests from homeowners are up only slightly. Seventy-three requests have been received this year, of which 42 involved land. This compares to 43 last year of which only 14 were land requests. Marchant says that, while other towns did see a drop in land values, Carlisle sales used for the revaluation this year did not show any price erosion, so land assessments were not reduced.

Asked about a recent petition by Greystone Crossing developer Costello to the state appellate tax board, Marchant said that land has always been taxed at the building lot rate once the planning board approves. He noted the appellate board “did not rule in his favor” and a further hearing is scheduled April 7. The town has tried to settle the case out of court but “it appears it is not settled.” The grounds for the appeal, which Marchant would not specify, would not set a precedent for other properties if the court rules against Carlisle. “It’s not a value issue.” According to Finance Director Larry Barton, the town’s exposure in that case is $65,000, not counting the cost of attorneys fees, and would be covered by funds set aside for such purposes in the overlay account.

Revaluations are required by the state every three years with interim adjustments as needed when prices have changed more than 10%. Next year is a routine revaluation year, and Marchant expects there will be further drops in assessments. “Carlisle is better off than other towns,” he says, “but not immune” to the downturn. He says the board will be looking closely at smaller houses, noting that as the demand for teardowns has dried up, prices for homes on the lower end have dropped.

“We’re in a very interesting spot,” says Marchant, as he points to the recent sale of a home at the same price paid in 2004. “It’s a challenge for the assessors to make sure our decisions are equitable.” This summer the BOA will be reviewing 2008 sales data and formulating a new valuation plan to submit to the Department of Revenue (DOR) for FY10. In order to certify the plan, the DOR must be convinced that new assessments will align with selling prices during the previous year. Once certified, the revaluation goes into affect and cannot be amended. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito