On Monday, November 20th, Listers Sean Boyce and Barbara Harrington gave a presentation on the status of the town-wide property value reassessment to the Selectboard, town manager, and a number of residents who attended via Zoom.
Before the listers can begin the actual task of updating property assessments there were a couple of logistical and administrative steps to complete. Firstly a contract was drafted by Town Manager Brian Story between the town and the professional company Appraisal Resource Group who will manage the Thetford Reappraisal project. Then paperwork was submitted to the Division of Property Value and Review (PVR) at the Vermont Department of Taxes, informing them that Thetford is about to reassess. The PVR is an important part of the Vermont tax bureaucracy; it keeps track of the taxable values of all properties in the state, and analyzes the appraisal practices and methods employed by all the towns in Vermont.
On a very practical level, the listers office needs to physically prepare for the reappraisal. The last reappraisal was conducted in 2012. It’s time to archive all those files and make space for new records that will be filled out in the field as the listers do their work. The amount of data that will be produced is significant. There are 1,464 properties that each will generate a file of drawings and measurements.
The listers will divide up the town into several sections. Postcards will be mailed to individual addresses, section by section, informing residents that the listers plan to visit their properties to perform the appraisal in person. Notices will also be posted on at least five public bulletin boards.
In tandem, the listers’ page on the town website will be updated so the public has access to tools and information. For homeowners’ convenience, they will be able to make an appointment for a visit through the listers’ page on the town website.
The listers are requesting that homeowners grant them entry to look over their buildings whenever possible. The listers do not wish to inspect real estate without the owners’ permission, even though 32 V.S.A. § 4041 may appear to grant them authority to inspect a property. Certainly, they must get permission if there are “No Trespassing” signs. They will take measurements and also make notes on the quality of construction and materials, level of finish, and presence of heating systems, among other things. The core structure and any improvements since the last appraisal will be given a value according to estimated replacement cost.
The listers will use an extensive reference book known as the Marshall & Swift Residential Cost Handbook to determine the value of a structure. The Handbook has six classifications for building quality, ranging from “low” to “excellent” to take the guesswork out of assessing construction quality, with many descriptions and photographs. There are also “local multipliers” for more than 825 geographic areas to ensure the values are appropriate to the location and reflective of current market conditions.
Some homeowners may not allow the listers to enter. In that case, the listers will glean whatever information they can from the exterior appearance and measurements. And they are obliged to make the assumption that the interior is fully finished and heated, which puts the highest taxable value on a structure.
The project management role of Appraisal Resource Group will include guiding the project, providing additional training as needed, and managing and customizing the substantial software that handles all the data. They may also refine the valuations obtained from the Marshall and Swift Handbook by performing comparable sales modeling, valuation analysis, and statistical review. And they will take on the most complicated properties in town, like farms, big estates, and lakeside locations. All this work will take two years to complete. The goal is to have the completed reassessment in time to update the 2025 Grand List.
Residents who think their property has been over-valued, for instance due to a mistake on their property description card, may appeal. The appeal process starts with the mandatory first step of filing a grievance in writing with the board of listers. It’s important to find out from the Town Clerk if there is a deadline by which grievances must be received. After filing a grievance, a reply will be received within 14 days. If the matter is not resolved to the resident’s satisfaction, they may contact the Town Clerk to make an appeal to the Board of Civil Authority (BCA). Again, there may be a deadline. The BCA will hold a hearing and appoint a three-person committee to inspect the property. They are obliged to make a report within 30 days of the hearing, and 15 days after this the BCA must issue a decision. If the resident is still dissatisfied, they may challenge the BCA’s decision before the State Appraiser or the superior court of the county.
It’s a misconception, however, that reassessment automatically increases property taxes. Generally, if the Grand List of the town increases, the town tax rate (expressed as tax dollars per $100,000 of assessed value) will likely go down because the tax levy is distributed over a broader base. If taxes go up, it means the overall town budget has increased and more taxes are needed to support it. Also bear in mind that the Education Tax (homestead tax) contributes more than the town property tax to the overall municipal tax burden.