Barrington Town Council remains quiet on new approach to assessments

Jacob Brier: 'How we assess properties is not an action of the council'

By Josh Bickford
Posted 9/18/19

Two Barrington residents voiced their concerns about the town's new approach to property assessments during the public comment portion of the Sept. 9 council meeting, but officials on the council …

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Barrington Town Council remains quiet on new approach to assessments

Jacob Brier: 'How we assess properties is not an action of the council'

Posted

Two Barrington residents voiced their concerns about the town's new approach to property assessments during the public comment portion of the Sept. 9 council meeting, but officials on the council stopped short of offering any response. 

Instead, members of the council discussed the issue behind closed doors during the executive session part of the meeting.

"We've been threatened with legal action related to the assessments policy," said Barrington Town Council member Jacob Brier. 

The new approach to assessments has been the point of contention by some residents and real estate agents. The town's tax assessor recently started assessing properties at the end of each year based on a home's sale price or on recent building permits. The change followed a 2018 Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling. 

Some residents, including the two people who spoke at the Sept. 9 council meeting, believe the new approach is not fair and needs to be repealed. 

"The current assessment methodology is being applied disproportionately and was also applied outside of current Rhode Island law with regard to timing of valuation," said Barrington resident Beth Splaine, during the council meeting. "… I'm here to ask the council to repeal the tax assessor's decision and to abate the current assessments."

Barrington resident Charlie Payne offered the town council a solution to the issue — he said the town should appoint a group of people to study the topic more closely. 

"If the town had the facts, the facts would speak for themselves," he said. 

In a prior interview, Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha said he supports the assessor's decision to implement the new approach to assessments. He said the town charter offers the assessor full authority to assess properties in town. He also said the new approach is more equitable.

Some residents differ. The Times has received letters to the editor, voicing opposition to the approach.

"The 'new approach,' which deserves to be called The Assessment Shuffle, is fundamentally flawed," wrote Barrington resident Matt Medeiros. 

"The court simply did not approve that assessors can now base valuations on just one individual sales price," wrote Gary Morse in a letter. "It's called 'comparable sales' for a reason."

Barrington Realtors are also opposed to the new approach. Officials from five local real estate offices signed a letter to the editor that was also sent to the town manager and town council. The letter listed the concerns of Realtors in Barrington, including "It creates a true obstacle for people moving to town, as well as for existing residents who want to sell their home."

Council quiet

Council member Jacob Brier has been talking to his constituents about the new assessments approach, but he and other members of the board are, so far, not talking about it at the public meetings.

Mr. Brier said he learned that someone had threatened to file a lawsuit against the town regarding the assessments. The Open Meetings Act allows public boards to discuss topics in executive session when it involves litigation, pending litigation or the threat of litigation.

When asked if the council's discussion in executive session was limited to the case of the person who threatened to file suit against the town, Mr. Brier said 

"The threat is related to the policy. So, the specific response to the threat requires the application of the policy. Obviously it's my hope the threat doesn't come to fruition," he said.

Mr. Brier added that believes all issues that impact the taxes people pay are topics that should offer opportunities for residents to "speak about and understand."

"I think the challenge with this one is that it's not a policy the council sets, for that reason it's a bit more complicated," he said. "How we assess properties is not an action of the council."

Mr. Brier said he was not sure if there would ever be a public response by the council to the assessments issue. 

"It will likely depend on whether there will be any formal action," he said. 

For people who are concerned with the situation, he offered this advice: "So, for now, if you are a person who is unhappy with their 2018 assessment the window to file an appeal is open… if you are considering purchasing a home or selling a home, contacting the assessor to understand what this policy means going forward would be my advice."

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