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October 08, 2008
Recent reval causes stir
HOLLIS, New Hampshire (STPNS) -- HOLLIS ? In a normal business week, the town?s assistant to the assessor takes about 10 phone calls.
Last week, she answered seven times that many, most of them from anxious property owners with the same question.
?Why did my value go up?? Connie Cain said she was asked repeatedly.
It?s a question that has caused a buzz at public meetings, including a recent session of the Board of Selectmen, and one that?s not likely to go away soon.
Based on the most recent property valuations, town taxpayers can expect to see an average increase of about 20 percent in their property values.
Considering that the previous full-scale, town-wide revaluation was done 17 years go, the increase shouldn?t be a surprise, officials are saying.
But it is.
The good news is that property owners? tax bills won?t necessarily be going up 20 percent, because the state will lower the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value, in light of the increase in valuations; increases to the tax bill will be a result of increases in spending approved at the town and school district meetings this spring.
The town contracts with a private firm, Assessment Associates, to update the assessments, which assign monetary values to residential, commercial and industrial buildings and land. Property taxes are based on these values.
A state law passed six years ago requires that towns conduct a revaluation at least every five years. The most recent revaluation in Hollis was done in 2002, but was less extensive than the latest effort.
It?s information Cain has found herself repeating, over and over again.
As assistant to the assessor, Cain oversees the office at Town Hall and serves as liaison to the assessing firm.
She said Assessment Associates verifies every property, estimating its market value, i.e., how much the property would sell for in the marketplace.
In Hollis, revised assessment notices for 2008 were mailed to 3,315 owners of taxable property last month.
Taxes are based on the total valuation of the town, which this year was assessed at $1.309 billion.
Each property owner is assessed a portion of whatever the town needs to raise to pay its bills, expenses incurred in the day-to-day operation. Taxes also pay for local schools, a portion of county government, and state education funding aid.
?The total cost is spread out over the tax base,? Cain said, stressing that the purpose of revaluation is to ensure that everyone pays a ?fair share.?
Cain, who is in her eighth year as assistant to the assessor, said callers last week were generally unaware of how the system works.
?Because of the recent downturn in the housing market and downturn in the economy, a lot of people don?t understand that although the housing market is very soft right now, within the past five years, we saw record increases,? Cain said.
Those increases, she?s been telling property owners, have translated into an increase in values of about 20 percent over last year.
?They?re asking why in the present housing market, they?re seeing an 18 to 22 percent increase in assessed values,? Cain said, repeating what has become her mantra: Property
hadn?t been assessed in six years; for several years, property owners saw record increases in market values.
She said last year?s valuations represent 77.2 percent of fair market value.
That means a home valued at $350,000 for 2007 was assessed at $270,200.
This year?s values are estimated to be at 95 percent of fair market value, Cain said.
Using that ratio, the $350,000 home would be valued at $332,500.
?The goal is to get them as close as possible,? Cain said of the assessed and market values.
Cain said some taxpayers will see reductions in property values, while others can anticipate increases.
? Anyone who disagrees with an assessment may file for an abatement, which is an appeal to have their assessment reviewed for accuracy.
In Hollis, tax bills are issued twice a year and are due on July 1 and Dec. 1.
State law requires that the town submit assessment data to the Department of Revenue Administration by Sept. 1. That information is then used to calculate the tax rate. This year, the town requested and received an extension. It must file with the state by Oct. 15.
When she talks to worried, would-be sellers, Cain tries to dispel the panic wrought by the recent Wall Street debacle and mortgage crisis.
?Even with the slide, a number of properties in Hollis in 2003 through 2004 into 2005 did not sit on the market more than 14 days,? Cain said. ?I did 100 transfers in one two-week period.?
Despite the softening real estate market, she continued, people are still buying and selling property in town.
?It?s a misconception that properties are not selling. They are just taking longer right now,? she said.
Meanwhile, Cain is urging property owners with questions or concerns to give her a call or stop by her office in Town Hall.
She?s also recommending that they review their property cards, the documents that contain data about their property, checking for accuracy.
And finally, she suggests using the data to answer the $1.309 billion question: ?Is my house truly worth what the town has it assessed for??
Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24 or email@example.com.
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