Property revaluations are almost always met with complaints from homeowners facing higher tax bills because the town determined their property is worth more, and therefore is subject to higher property taxes.
But this year’s Bristol revaluation has gone well beyond complaints from a few homeowners hesitant to write the government a larger check. The “wild swings” — as Councilman Halsey Herreshoff put it — in property value changes have sparked outrage across the town. “We’ve had a process that is clearly flawed,” Herreshoff said.
Angry homeowners facing 30 to 40 percent increases in valuation — some as high as 200 percent increases — certainly agree. The anger has remained since private valuation firm Clipboard mailed preliminary assessment letters to residents March 11, practically forcing the Town Council to delay implementing the revaluation, which it wisely voted to do last week.
The council asked the state General Assembly for permission to revert to 2013 values — required due to a state law that mandates all towns revalue property every three years. Clipboard’s valuation was so controversial, the council spent $10,000 for a third party — Finnegan Appraisal and Consulting — to analyze Clipboard’s revaluation and determine why there are so many discrepancies. Simultaneously, Clipboard is hearing appeals from homeowners who feel they have not been treated fairly.
While some properties are now valued much higher than just three years ago, many others saw their valuations decline by an equally surprising amount, resulting in a net property value loss of 11 percent across the town. The resulting tax rate increase that would be necessary even to maintain current town services further adds to the burden of residents who may rightly feel they are already footing an unfair share of the bill.
Granted, many of the properties in question could have undergone extensive renovations or even rebuilds in the past three years, justifying their steep increase in valuation. But that’s surely not the case with all. Out of fairness, Bristol needs to take the time to hear all resident appeals and consider which have been unfairly assessed. The move to use the 2013 property tax valuations — which the General Assembly should rubber stamp — and wait on an accurate, or at least less controversial, revaluation is a wise step.