After hearing that property values in Bristol have declined by 11 percent across the board, many property owners and Town Council members were taken by surprise when some homes jumped in value by 30 to 40 percent.
“I’m not happy at all with the system,” said Frank Vieira, a resident of the Brookfield neighborhood where he’s lived for years. The residential area, adjacent to a manufacturing zone, hasn’t changed in the time Mr. Vieira has lived there, but since the time of the last revaluation in December 2010, he said “someone overpaid for land in his area,” resulting in a 42 percent increase to the assessed value of his property.
“Don’t make me pay,” he told the Town Council at the March 25 meeting. “That means $50,000. I want to stay in Bristol. I love Bristol. But the way this is going, I can’t afford it.”
Mr. Vieira’s concern was one of many received by residents throughout Bristol after preliminary assessment letters were mailed out on March 11.
Owen Hartman, representing Clipboard, the company hired to conduct the most recent revaluation of properties town-wide, defended his methodology in determining the numbers, while emphasizing that they are preliminary. The next step is to hear from property owners who wish to appeal their assessments. Once all those hearings are complete, the company will visit individual properties in question, conduct an analysis and present its final assessment.
Town Council Chairwoman Mary Parella criticized the process as well. “In the past, the town council had an opportunity to review the revaluation information before the letters were sent to property owners,” she said.
This year, the council wasn’t given that opportunity. Instead, council members heard the results of the revaluation for the first time on March 25, two weeks after the letters went out.
“When it has been, I think it’s mitigated some of the controversies that have gone on,” Ms. Parella said of advanced notice to the council. “At least we would be able to address it with a little less shock and surprise.”
Tax Assessor Chris Belaire assured the council that the numbers provided are “preliminary,” and there is more work to be done. “I haven’t accepted these numbers,” she said.
But even the process to arrive at preliminary values concerned Ms. Parella. “A house going up $250,000 in downtown Bristol, doesn’t that bring a red flag?” she asked Mr. Hartman.
“That’s what I saw in sales,” he said. “If that’s not the true condition of the neighborhood, we have to know that.”
While the burden of proof is left to the property owner, Ms. Belaire said the town investigates any property whose value fluctuates by 50 percent or more. Still, Ms. Parella said the preliminary values sent out to property owners, as well as the overall decline in property values, undermined all the work the town has accomplished to keep the tax rate level.
“People are outraged,” she said. “I feel that in one fell swoop you have dismantled all this hard work.”
Clipboard will continue to conduct appeals hearings, with the final revaluation assessment expected to be complete by April 15.