Commentary: Thanks for the coverage on assessments issue

Posted 7/20/19

By Jacob Brier

Special to The Times

Thank you for ​your recent coverage​ of the change in policy relating to home value assessments. Aside from the letters to the owners of the 450 or so …

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Commentary: Thanks for the coverage on assessments issue

Posted

By Jacob Brier

Special to The Times

Thank you for ​your recent coverage​ of the change in policy relating to home value assessments. Aside from the letters to the owners of the 450 or so homes that were impacted by the change, I believe your article was the only means of communicating the new policy to Barrington residents. It’s how I learned of the change, and I have more opportunity than most to learn of such things. We can do better.

I met with the town manager last week to discuss the upcoming year. I shared that one of my goals is to improve the town’s communications with all residents. It’s something we’ve spoken about in the past, for town administration, elected officials on the council, school committee, and committee on appropriations.

We all have room to grow here, and a duty to achieve that growth. It’s a challenging prospect, because informing everybody about everything requires several mediums, some of which are costly, and time, which can also be quite expensive. It’s a problem for which I take ownership, and one thing I can do that doesn’t cost the town anything is try to share more widely the information I learn when I seek answers to the questions I hear people asking, see them posting to Facebook, or about which I hear whispers.

Here is some information I gathered after learning about the new assessment approach.

As noted in the article, the RI Supreme Court ruled last year that assessments could be changed following a sale. This was not a decision sought by Barrington. Homeowners in Portsmouth sued their town, and prevailed.

As a result of that court ruling, the Barrington tax assessor’s office was contacted by multiple Barrington residents who referred to the court ruling and wanted their newly-purchased home’s assessed value reduced from what was currently listed to the lower value of the sale price.

In 2018, there were approximately 100 Barrington homes that sold for less than the assessed value and about 350 homes that sold for above the assessed value. With the new court ruling setting the expectation that homes can be changed as a result of this, and homeowners requesting that it be done, our assessor’s office made the determination to adjust all homes.

While that decision is not subject to council approval, to be transparent I feel I should share that I would have approved of the change, given the circumstances. I don’t speak for the rest of the council, but I find it hard to argue against that, on average, what a home sells for is a better indication of its value than the statistical revaluations. I would have, however, advocated for advance communication of the change.

Realtors and homeowners should be equipped with this information before a purchase and sale is signed. For homeowners who are currently burdened trying to sell a home with an assessment above market value, this change makes it easier to sell the home, because the purchaser knows the assessment will drop to the purchase price. But I remember buying our first home and how significant a specific monthly payment was for us. If our assessment increased immediately, we could have struggled if we hadn’t known to take into account the added tax payments.

Addressing ​Mr. Medeiros’s letter to the editor​ regarding this change, the tax assessor does have authority to deviate from the triennial schedule, as a result of ​the Supreme Court Ruling in Balmuth v. Dolce​. That ruling states that home values do not need to be locked in to the most recent triennial assessment. The assessments are not illegal, and in fact, to not change the assessed values upon request would be illegal. And if the assessor were to only lower assessments where warranted, in essence the entire town would be subsidizing the taxes of people who purchased homes above the assessed value. It seems to me that equity is best reached by applying the new law in both directions, letting the market set the valuation.

One piece of clarification to the concerns in that letter is that this doesn’t create an at-will or haphazard way of assessing. It’s straightforward: a home’s assessment will change between townwide reassessments as a result of an arm’s-length sale or of material modifications to the property. And yes, the assessments are changing in both directions; the 100 homes that sold below assessed value did receive a reduced assessment change.

Mr. Medeiros’s frustration expressed around the lack of communication is warranted. As I noted, we can -- and must -- do better. As a representative of all taxpayers and residents, I have a duty to do better personally, and a responsibility to encourage better be done by everybody. I’m working on it. If anybody has any questions or concerns, please reach out: jbrier@barrington.ri.gov​ or (401) 903-2832. You can also sign up for my newsletter, at jacobbrier.com/get-involved.

Jacob Brier is a member of the Barrington Town Council. 

Editor's note: A different headline was earlier included with this commentary.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.