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In September, Norm Wood will mark 20 years working as the town’s assessor. (Photo by Becky Coffey/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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If you’re like most town residents, your interaction with the town assessor is limited to the property revaluation notice the assessor sends you every five years or contact to remove a motor vehicle you’ve sold from the tax rolls. For the town’s low-income elderly, however, annual contact with the office is a lifeline that can mean the difference between staying in the home they own and having to sell it.
“We take applications for the Circuit Breaker Program for the elderly between Feb. 1 and May 15 each year,” Assessor Norm Wood says of the state’s program that awards eligible low-income homeowners a tax credit.
As of next month, Norm will have worked as the town’s assessor for 20 years.
He started in the field as a 26-year old living in Mount Desert on Mount Desert Island in Maine. He took a job with a small firm doing data collection for property revaluations in the Town of Waldoboro, Maine.
“I was the first one to work through the winter for the company in Maine. I had to measure the outsides of houses, sometimes in knee-deep snow,” Norm recalls. “I lived in a trailer during the week and went back to my home on Mt. Desert on the weekends.”
As he approaches his 20-year anniversary as Old Saybrook assessor, he looks back on his 40 years doing property revaluations in Maine and Connecticut. This year, Old Saybrook for the first time will use the firm Vision Appraisal to complete the residential property revaluation. In the past, Wood completed the town revaluation task himself, with support from temporary help.
But every five years, as required by state statute, the assessor must conduct a property revaluation, an extra task that consumers many hours. Over the course of his 40-year career, Norm Wood has done a lot of revaluations.
This year’s revaluation process is a statistical one. The prior revaluation, conducted five years ago, was a full measure and list, a revaluation that includes on-site inspections of properties to confirm details carried on the assessor’s card for the address. Vision Appraisal will use as input to this year’s statistical revaluation the 200 property sales recorded in Old Saybrook recorded between April 2017 and April 2018.
“Since Oct. 1, 2013, the date of the last revaluation, prices have increased between 5 and 10 percent for shoreline area properties,” Norm says. “Properties near the center of town have increased in value by around 15 percent, but properties above I-95, have gone up by only three to five percent.”
Every property has an assessor’s card, whether it is residential, commercial, industrial, or undeveloped land. To keep the assessor’s card information current, each week Norm’s assistant collects building permit information from the Building Department and enters it into the assessor’s database of property card records.
“When an improvement adds value to the property—an addition, a garage, etc.—then those things are added at the time to the assessors card and then, added to the town’s Grand List” of Taxable Property,” Norm says. “Every time someone adds an improvement to their property, it increases the value and the taxes.
“The more the town’s Grand List grows—as houses are built, torn down, and rebuilt, or new commercial buildings are constructed—it adds to the Grand List’s value and moderates future tax increases for all,” Norm adds.
For the Circuit Breaker Program, Norm relies on seniors coming to the Assessor’s Office to apply. The application that the town sends to the state must include the resident’s completed IRS tax forms and supporting 1099 income statements. The amount of tax credit awarded by the state is based on a sliding scale tied to the homeowners’ total income.
Each November, the Assessor’s Office gets a letter from the State of Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management (OPM) with a chart showing the levels of qualifying income for the next spring’s applicants. Last year the town had 145 elderly and disabled homeowners who qualified for the circuit-breaker program and the tax credit that go with it.
Similarly, the Assessor’s Office also takes applications for the Renter’s Rebate Program, a program that awards grants to low-income individuals who rent apartments or houses. Applications for this program are taken between April 1 and Oct. 1 each year. For this program, the applicant must attach a letter from his or her landlord confirming the value of the rent and utilities paid.
This is just one of the many routine tasks that Wood performs each year, with support from an executive assistant in the office. One of those tasks is to check the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) list of car sales—there were more than 3,000 sales last year—sent to the town by disk each fall; those not priced (about 500 to 1,000 each year) have to be reviewed and checked for pricing and entered manually.
Another annual task is for the assessor to send out forms to all town businesses each fall asking them to declare all personal property subject to town tax such as fixtures, equipment, and computers. These completed forms are then reviewed and the data entered into the database used for calculating the town’s Grand List of Taxable Property and for issuing tax bills.
Old Saybrook residents will get their Notice of Revaluations in early November from Vision Appraisal. Then in the next few weeks, individuals with questions about their appraisals can speak with Vision representatives to get clarifications. If an individual is still not satisfied that the new valuation is appropriate, in early January 2019 through Feb. 20, they can call to schedule a hearing before the town’s Board of Assessment Appeals. The hearings are conducted starting in late February 2019 through March 2019. Property owners will be notified in writing if either step results in a valuation adjustment.
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