Town residents criticize reappraisal
By PATRICIA MINICHIELLO Staff Writer | July 16,2009
It was standing room only Tuesday evening as more than 200 people packed Rutland Town School cafeteria, some to listen, others to voice concerns, about a townwide reappraisal likely to hike the grand list by 73 percent.
Even before residents were told how to grieve their taxes, the grievances began.
"We were reappraised at the very peak of the housing market. What are you going to do to correct that?" asked one resident, speaking loudly and noticeably irritated.
"My taxes are up $1,000 a year. What are you going to do with that extra money?" asked another.
Listers and appraisers fielded questions from the impassioned crowd, explaining that because the grand list is up, the actual tax rate is down.
The new tax rate, tentatively set at $1.55 per $100 of assessed value, is down a dollar from last year. The final number depends on adjustments.
"Once we get through the grievance process, we will have the final grand list and an accurate tax rate," said Howard Burgess, the town lister.
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, Burgess said 100 residents had scheduled grievance appointments. He also said several people were waiting outside town hall Wednesday morning before the start of the business day to schedule appointments.
"It's been nonstop," Burgess said Wednesday.
During the meeting Tuesday, several people asked how the reappraisal will affect their taxes, others wanted to know how to go about the grievance process. One resident even asked how the grand list could jump 73 percent from 10 years ago, particularly in a declining housing market.
Freddie Ann Bohlig, a town resident and Realtor with Berkley Veller and Greene, spoke publicly about a downturn in the housing market.
She said the volume of listings sold in Rutland Town is down 44.79 percent from October 2008 to the present. She also said the average sale price in Rutland Town is down about 30.98 percent during that same time period and the number of listings sold is down 20 percent.
Bohlig, who has been a Realtor for nearly 30 years, received an enthusiastic round of applause for providing the crowd with information from Vermont's Multiple Listing Service.
She said the problem with the reappraisal in Rutland Town is that the downturn in the housing market began in October 2008, well after the reappraisal began.
"The Wright Appraisal firm started the Rutland Town reappraisal in 2007 and they've worked really, really hard to arrive at these property assessments, but it would be wrong not to take the declining market into consideration," Bohlig said.
Steve Wright, of Wright Appraisal Co., the firm hired to reappraise approximately 1,900 parcels, said the opportunity to do an across-the-board adjustment has passed.
"We could have done it before we set the grand list out. We talked about it and there was not enough data to determine that was necessary or appropriate," he said.
Wright added that some people think they know more than the appraisers when it comes to an across-the-board adjustment.
"Those are Monday morning quarterbacks," Wright said.
The town contracted with Wright Appraisal Co. for $152,438 and has agreed to pay an additional $4,000 for added work.
Residents received change-of-appraisal notices immediately following the July 4 weekend. The mailers included everyone's appraised property values and information on the grievance process.
July 20 marks the last day to make a grievance-hearing appointment. It also marks the first day of grievance hearings.
Grievances will be heard by the listers and appraisers first and subsequently a Board of Civil Authority, on an as-needed basis.
Burgess said anyone who chooses to grieve their assessment will have a stronger case by bringing examples of comparable properties to the hearing. A list of recent sales is available on the town's Web site www.rutlandtown.com.
Just prior to Tuesday's meeting, in a telling sign of the tone and candor of the evening, a resident walked by a row of cars in the school's parking lot. He pointed to a blue vehicle with the sign "Wright Appraisal Company" on the door.
"Maybe we should deflate their tires," he said.