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2011 property revaluation to begin

CORNWALL — It seems like the dust is just settling from the last revaluation of properties, but it’s that time again. The 2011 reval will be conducted over the course of the coming months. Adjustments to property assessments will be noted on the grand list (the total value of taxable property) as of Oct. 1, 2011, and will impact tax bills beginning July 2012.The Board of Selectmen recently approved an “in-house” revaluation by Assessor Barbara Bigos. She conducted the 2006 revaluation. Bigos estimated a $16,500 cost, less than the last one. The selectmen noted an outside company would likely charge more than $100,000, and offer a less informed and accurate result (Bigos has a sterling reputation in Cornwall and other area towns). The board quickly approved spending up to $17,000.In an interview with The Lakeville Journal, Bigos started out by cautioning that any comments she could make at this point about the reval are “very premature.” But being a detail-oriented and very organized person, she had no trouble giving some clues as to how this one could pan out. One thing she can say for certain: This one will be nothing like the last one. And (good news here), she is almost certain that everyone’s assessment will drop.The 2006 revaluation (the first one that Bigos did) brought many corrections to outdated property descriptions from the previous assessor. Bigos began by getting a one-year extension in order to “clean house.” As promised, she visited all 800 or so properties, and took photos to update town records — and found numerous discrepancies between property descriptions and reality. Most, of course, resulted in a higher assessment. But as a broad response to anyone who might have had complains, Bigos noted that they had been getting a tax break for years in most cases.Bigos and the town could have researched property improvements that had been done without building permits — and taxed the property owners retroactively. That didn’t happen.The grand list of taxable property values about doubled after Bigos’ update. Some properties saw assessments that tripled, as improvements and multipliers (views, for example, are multipliers) were applied. But the increase in the grand list, weighed against a level budget at that time, led to the mill rate being cut in half.Timing was a big factor. “The housing market was at its absolute peak here in 2006,” Bigos observed. Assessments are based in part on real estate values.She compared it to the revaluation she completed in Salisbury last year, which saw a moderate grand list increase and little impact from the recession; high-end homes continued to sell despite the economy. Bigos is just starting to look at market current factors and how they will affect assessments. There is little to go on now. She is hoping sales will pick up with warmer weather, since assessments are primarily based on prices as properties change hands. “The sales that matter most for this revaluation are the ones closest to this summer and early fall. I hope there are sales then, for the sake of the town, and so I can have something to hang my hat on.”Although many assessors say they would rather not do their own revaluations, Bigos, a former math teacher, said she loves piecing together the puzzle. Besides which, she doesn’t fully trust property evaluators who don’t know the town and who often don’t visit all the properties.“I have to sign the grand list and swear to whatever numbers they come up with, and for the next five years, I have to defend them. I’m committed to the towns I work in, and if I’m going to swear to someone’s work, I’d rather it be my own.”As she did during the last revaluation, Bigos plans to hold informational sessions for the public. And she is predicting that, “unless something miraculous happens,” property values here will decrease.It doesn’t necessarily follow that tax bills will drop as well. It’s all a balancing act. Other revenues can be up or down, most likely the later, given that the bulk of it is state funding.

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