Grand List: Revaluation shows stable market
Now worth over $4.8 billion, the town’s taxable property — real estate, motor vehicles and business equipment — has increased a modest $25 million in value.
The five-year revaluation completed this week pegged the town’s new grand list at $4,812,004,832, compared to last year’s figure of $4,787,140,214 — up $24,864,618.
“It’s about five-tenths of a percent more than last year — it didn’t go down, it didn’t go up, it stayed about the same,” Assessor Al Garzi said Tuesday morning. “That’s a half a percent, so at the current levels of spending, the mill rate is about the same.”
Revaluation is designed as “revenue neutral” in the rebalancing of the tax burden.
The new grand list also reflects — as it would any year — some “new growth” from construction of new homes and commercial buildings, additions, purchases of new cars and business equipment. That new growth provides the town with a little more tax revenue to cover spending increases in the 2018-19 budget.
“New growth was about eight-tenths of a percent, or about $1,060,000 in new revenue,” Garzi said.
This is slightly below the 1% growth estimate town officials used in their preliminary budget calculations, First Selectman Rudy Marconi told fellow selectmen as they began budget work this week.
Still, it is growth and more revenue at the start of budget season, and Marconi welcomed Garzi’s numbers.
“We always hope for an increase in the grand list, but since the recession that growth has been minimal,” Marconi said. “However, when compared to other communities we have seen, Ridgefield has fared better. As Al said, growth in the grand list does add revenue and, in this year’s case, helps cover any budgetary increases.”
The revaluation — required by the state every five years now — was an 18-month process, with the Waterbury firm eQuality Valuation performing much of the work, under Garzi’s direction. The town’s cost is about $425,000, Garzi said.
“The purpose is to bring everybody back to the same starting value — 70% of our appraisal date’s market value. Our appraisal date is Oct. 1, 2017,” Garzi said.
The new assessments will determine taxes for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which starts July 1. Current year taxes are unaffected.
The grand list values three kinds of property: real estate, motor vehicles, and a category known as “personal property,” which consists of business equipment — computers, cash registers, furniture, etc.
Real estate makes up about 96% of the grand list.
Ridgefield’s real estate is valued at $4,461,478,184 — just under $4.5 billion.
Motor vehicles are valued at $249,379,676.
“That’s for 21,500 cars,” Garzi said.
Personal property is valued at $101,146,972, representing 1,378 personal property taxpayers — “businesses in town, small and big,” Garzi said.
One wrinkle in state tax law is that both motor vehicles and business equipment that qualifies as personal property are depreciated at a rate of 10% a year — so if everyone in town kept the same cars from one year to the next, their listed tax value would decline 10%. Growth in the two accounts shows up only after the 10% depreciation has been recovered.
“Personal property and motor vehicles had to grow $52 million to break even,” Garzi said. “Personal grew by $17 million and motor vehicles grew by $35 million.”
The big numbers are in the town’s real estate — the largest chunk of the grand list by far, and responsible for most of its increase.
“The net increase was 95% real estate, and a small portion of the increase was from motor vehicles and personal property,” Garzi said.
A major goal of the revaluation is to readjust so the share of taxes people pay remains proportionate to the value of their property, compared to other taxpayers in town.
There are always adjustments — based on actual sales values of neighboring and similar properties.
“We had a lot of sales over the 18-month period,” Garzi said. “About $500 million in sales. We had sales all over town, which helped come up with accurate assessments.”
“Location, condition, and price range drove the values, really,” said Garzi.
“There are certain areas that were really strong. If you’re between a $300,000 and $900,000 price range, you’re in a really strong price range. If you’re in a really sought-after area, you might have seen an increase.”
Some properties aren’t included in the taxable portion of the grand list — though they are revalued.
“Our exempt properties and abatements total $551,573,861 — about $550 million of exempt properties,” Garzi said. “That’s state owned property, town-owned property, churches, schools — anything that meets the statutory requirement.
“Boehringer’s abatement is in that number, as well.”
Boehringer’s tax abatements — slowly expiring over time — were granted by the town some years ago to encourage the drug company to pursue a major expansion of its research and production facilities in Ridgebury.
“There’s about $1 million left to come off, in tax dollars,” Garzi said of the abatements.
Other state-approved programs that lower the grand list — including tax breaks for “farm, forest and open space” — amount to about $10 million off the total, Garzi said.
Ridgefield’s tax rate is 27.12 mills under the 2017-18 budget, and since the grand list is changing only about .005%, taxpayers could use that number to ballpark their taxes next year — excluding, of course, spending increases coming out of the town and school budget process taking place this winter.
Taxpayers have the right to appeal their revaluations to the town’s Board of Assessment Appeals.
“The board meets in March,” Garzi said. “You need an appraisal, and you sit before the board and you explain why you thought it could be less.”
In December, after people received notices of their revised assessments, there was a less formal hearing process, with people coming in to discuss questions.
“About 275 people came to the informal hearings,” Garzi said. “It was still less than the normal — about 10% of your accounts.
“We’ll continue to get calls right up until the bills go out in July,” he said.