Created on Thursday, 26 July 2007 06:58
Last Updated on Thursday, 26 July 2007 06:58
By Lisa Loomis
Two residents of Waitsfield appeared before the Waitsfield Select Board this week to request that the town conduct an audit of its 2006 town wide reappraisal.
Jim Tabor and Joe Grant both spoke to the board during the public forum section of the regular meeting on June 23. Tabor was following up on a letter he sent to the board citing serious problems and many mistakes in the town's 2006 townwide appraisal. He asked the board to consider undertaking a full audit of the reappraisal, pointing out one mistake in valuation which amounted to a $200,000 error.
"One major anomaly in your appraisal has already been identified, and the people responsible for it can't explain it and the people in charge don't know how many more anomalies there are," Tabor said.
"How can we find out how many other mistakes were made? This is a quality control concern," he continued.
Grant told the board that he was shocked about the types of mistakes he discovered in his own appraisal, including an estimate for a pool at his physical therapy practice which had the pool at 20 by 20 feet when it measures 8 by 12 feet.
"I think we should have an audit done. I don't think all the numbers used in this reappraisal were valid. I have three questions: How does the town know its money was spent properly on this appraisal? Given the cost of the appeals, is this fair to all taxpayers? And, is the town getting all the tax that it should?" Grant asked.
Select board chair Elwin Neill Jr. pointed out that there were several tax appeal cases that were adjudicated by the state appraisal that were more complex than they might appear. He said all of the cases that the town is appealing further were decided by one particular appraiser and said the town is pursuing the appeals because of that appraisers' practices.
"All of those which we appealed are likely to be reversed," Neill said.
This spring and early summer, the town received the decisions in eight appeals which went to the state appraiser. The deadline for the town to appeal those decisions had passed in four of the cases. The town appealed three of them.
"As a whole, the bottom line on this reappraisal is that we think it was pretty much on the money," Neill said.
Tabor and others have researched the criteria under which a reappraisal could or should be audited. They consulted Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowicz on the matter.
"When I spoke with Deb Markowitz, she said basically there are two kinds of bad appraisals: sloppy and worse. Sloppy, she said, is generally indicated by a spike in appeals, which certainly happened here. By "worse" she meant appraisals where something unethical or illegal was done -- such as giving some people preferential treatment," Tabor explained.
Their concerns also encompass access to cost reports which some towns generate and use to appraise properties. At a recent meeting taxpayers voiced their frustration with the unwillingness of the listers to provide cost reports. Town lister John Reilly and the town's hired appraiser, Spencer Potter, said that they did not generate or use cost reports in the 2006 reappraisal. Select board members ultimately decided that if it is not too time consuming, it is reasonable for taxpayers to request that their cost report be printed.