Thursday, January 19, 2012

Property Tax Bill Fight Needs Sales, Housing Data

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Homeowner Bill Russell and more than 30 other residents met Wednesday night to hear the numerous steps and research they must complete to possibly reduce their property tax bills—in some cases which have jumped $15,000 to $20,000 this quarter.
One resident, Bill Russell, who lives at 39 Grinnell Road, adjacent to Deanna Road where many residents have issues, showed his latest tax bill that went from $159,000 to $180,900—a more than $21,000 difference and wondered even if he went through the process to gain an abatement, or a decrease in the tax assessment, if the city assessors would lower his bill.
“You know they’re not going to do anything,” Russell told the crowd that gathered Wednesday at the Arnone Elementary School. Ward 2 City Councilor Thomas Monahan organized the meeting because he has received dozens of calls, as has his fellow councilors about the jump in residents’ tax bills during this quarter that are for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
Nearly 50 residents and officials attended. Residents must file an abatement petition by Feb. 1 in order to have the city officially review the assessed value.
During the meeting Bill Bearce, owner of Bearce Insurance, said residents will have to do a lot of research to show the city assessor’s office that the assessed property value, a calculation which all tax bills are based, is too high for the current home sales market.
“It’s a paper-laden process and it’s also a research-laden process,” Bearce said.
A description City Assessor Paul Sullivan would agree with.
Sullivan, in a telephone interview late last week, said residents must follow a deadline-oriented process that begins at City Hall.
“Read the website, read the website, read the website,” Sullivan said.
The assessor’s website outlines all of the steps residents must take in order to request their assessment be lowered.
It also lists criteria for those who can ask for tax deferments—or postpone of paying tax bills—such as the elderly.
Sullivan stressed that the website offers residents a lot of information on the how the city calculates a property’s assessment and the process of what residents must do if they disagree with the city’s number. “You have to prove us wrong,” Sullivan said.
“You can’t just come in and say, “I don’t want to pay this. I don’t want to pay any tax.' You have to prove us wrong. Prove us wrong,” he said.
Also topping the list of resident must dos is filing an abatement request by Feb. 1.
During last night’s meeting, Bearce agreed residents need to be armed with information such as sales data or square foot percentages and not anger and indignation.
“It keeps going back to ‘what would someone buy your house for,’” Bearce said.
Bearce said City Councilor Thomas Monahan has posted a link on his website for home sales “comps,” or comparables.
Residents can type in their address and search their neighbors’ property values to see if one house is larger or smaller than the other and has the same assessed value.
Bill Russell and several Deanna Road residents, a street they said has no more than 12 houses on it and is a Campanelli development where the houses are all very similar, have seen their assessed values jump $10,000 to $20,000.
Russell, who has lived his house since 1970 when the neighborhood was constructed, said he believes the reason is because two homes in the neighborhood were bought as foreclosures, completely gutted and renovated with new kitchens, bathrooms, decks and other accessories.
Bearce and Bernie Hassan from Briarwood Real Estate looked at Russell’s bill and some others in the neighborhood like Jerry Epstein, a retired truck driver living on a fixed income whose tax bill for his house on Deanna Road increased by $16,000 and said the group had some ammunition to take to the assessors. Officials suggested meeting with the assessors office informally, but if that initial meeting was unsatisfactory, then residents must file an abatement petition by Feb. 1.
Forms are available at the assessor’s office or on the board’s website.
The assessors office does not actually hold a hearing unless the resident asks for one. The assessor’s office must issue a written decision.
If the decision is unsatisfactory to the resident, the next step is an appeal to the state Appellate Tax Board. Registrar of Deeds John Buckley said his website also has information about foreclosures and home sales from not only Brockton, but also the more than 20 other cities and towns in Plymouth County.
He urged residents to view the website, contact his office or city councilors if they need help to do the research because it is the information about area sales and comparable home values that residents must be armed with to even begin the abatement process.
“The more evidence you have--the better,” Buckley said. “Data speaks for itself,” he added.

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