Property value decline averaged 18%

New tax assessments reflect an average decline of 18% in Ridgefield real estate values, since the last revaluation in 2008.

Notices of the new assessments were mailed out Wednesday to some 9,500 individual Ridgefield property owners.

The average decline of 18% is a figure people can use to judge whether their own tax bill will be a little more, about the same, or a little less as a result of the revaluation — which is designed to be revenue-neutral on a townwide basis.

Assessor Al Garzi explained Friday how the changes might affect a taxpayer’s bill. “If anybody went down 18%, they’re about a break-even. If they went down less than 18% they might see an increase. If they went down more than 18%, they’ll see a decrease — keeping in mind also that the budget process has to take place.”

The revaluation notices will include a property’s old assessment and its new assessment, and homeowners can calculate how their change compares to the average of an 18% decrease.

Informal hearings for people with questions about their revaluations  started Friday, Dec. 21, and will run through Wednesday, Jan. 9.

The new assessments will affect taxes for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2013.

Property owners opening envelopes should remember that the “assessed value” they’re looking is designed to be 70% of current market value — not the full value — for each piece of real estate.

The overall revaluation is described as revenue neutral because the tax rate will rise in proportion to the fall in value of all the town’s property, so the same amount of money can be raised townwide — even as individual property tax bills may change a little as a result of the rebalancing of the tax burden.

The annual budget process with its seemingly inevitably higher spending requests will likely produce a tax increase that would go on top of whatever changes an individual property owner has as a result of the revaluation.

“Whatever happens to the budget is in addition to, and will affect the numbers: they’re preliminary,” Mr. Garzi said.

The informal hearings for people who wonder about their revaluations are being conducted by hearing officers from eQuality Valuation Services, with oversight from Mr. Garzi and his staff.

“We will monitor it to be sure things go well,” Mr. Garzi said. “There are going to be four hearings going on every 15 minutes.”

The hearings will be scheduled weekdays and Saturdays, through Wednesday, Jan. 9. There will be no hearings on Sundays or Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Dec. 24 and 25, or New Years Eve and New Year’s Day, Monday, Dec. 31 and Tuesday, Jan. 1.

On weekdays, hearings will be from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., with the goal of having them competed by 6:45. The Saturday hearings will be scheduled from 9 to 5:45, with the goal of finishing by 6.

The hearings are all being held at the town Recreation Center on Danbury Road, across from the Fox Hill condominiums.

People who want hearings must call 1-800-515-7177 to make an appointment.

“They’ll have your file there because you called ahead,” Mr. Garzi said. “If anybody has any problems with the company, they can call us: 431-2706.”

Revaluation is a process periodically required by the state, to assure that the municipal tax burden is fairly shared out in a way that reflects current relative property values.

“This is my fifth revaluation here, and this is the most challenging because of the economy, because of the real estate market — how properties have been affected by the economy — and the conversion,”  Mr. Garzi said.

Converting to new computer software at the same time the refigured house values are being calculated and entered into the system slowed the reassessment work.

Mr. Garzi, his staff, and workers eQuality Valuation Services, the firm consulting on the revaluation effort, have been scrambling the last few weeks to get everything done.

“Not only are you doing a reval, they’re also switching over software systems,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi.

To maintain the integrity of the process, the changed values must be entered into both the old and the new software.

“He has to do two different entries. It’s taking a tremendous amount of hours, and compounding the issues,” Mr. Marconi said.

Still, he agreed it made sense to make the change.

“This is the best time to do it,” he said.

The old software was no longer being supported by the vendor, Mr. Garzi said.

As for the trends affecting properties’ relative values, Mr. Garzi said the condition of houses and their location were the most significant factors. Well-kept properties and homes near the center of town generally retained value better.

“The condition of your house is really important, and the location of your house,” Mr. Garzi said. “The economy brought preference back into the market.”

While real estate notices have gone out, Mr. Garzi said the entire grand list of taxable property isn’t complete. Automobile and business equipment, taxed as “personal property,” still need to be assessed and added to the real estate.

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