Town revisits property values12/11/08

Changes add $7 million to grand list

Dec. 11, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The town of Williston wrapped up its reappraisal process with a final round of changes that added more than $7 million to the grand list.

Called errors and omissions, the review corrected mistakes discovered by the town after appeal hearings were completed. The Selectboard signed off on the changes at its Dec. 1 meeting.

Most of the mistakes produced small decreases in value. Some $1.6 million was subtracted from the grand list, the total value of all taxable property in town. That figure does not include changes made as the result of informal and formal appeals heard earlier this year.

The errors and omissions reductions were offset several times over by a big bump in value for Vermont Transco LLC, the company that owns the state’s high voltage electric transmission system.

The total value of the company’s land and equipment in Williston was originally pegged at $28.2 million. Town Assessor Bill Hinman said that number was based on an outdated figure for the common level of appraisal, a percentage that measures how close appraisals are to the actual market values. Using the up-to-date CLA hiked the value to $37 million.

In all, changes made due to errors and omissions produced a net gain of $7,175,873 in the town’s grand list.

“That was a very nice thing to see,” Hinman told the Selectboard.

The value of 55 properties was changed due to errors and omissions, most relatively small increases and decreases.

Twenty-nine homeowners had their appraisals reduced due to the same error. Hinman said those corrections were made to address a problem with the statistical model used to value properties.

Between 150 and 250 appraisals had already been reduced during the appeals process because of the issue: the statistical model overvalued modest homes sited on two or more acres of prime land.

Hinman said the new reductions were being made out of fairness to residents who did not appeal but whose property was overvalued for the same reason.

Town Manager Rick McGuire expressed concern earlier this year about the reappraisal’s affect on revenue. The tax rate was reduced based on the assumption that the grand list would increase by a certain amount. McGuire worried that successful appeals, particularly by the largest commercial properties, Maple Tree Place and IBM, could cause budget problems.

In fact, both Inland Real Estate Group, the Illinois-based owner of Maple Tree Place, and IBM, which has a facility off Redmond Road, initially appealed their appraisals. Combined, the two properties were valued at $112.5 million. But both companies eventually dropped their appeals.

McGuire said the final grand list will be close to original estimates and so will not affect town finances. Before the reappraisal the grand list was $1.2 billion. The new grand list is expected to total just under $1.6 billion.

Changes due to errors and omissions are not quite the final word of property appraisals in Williston.

Two residential property owners and one commercial property owner have appeals pending before the state, said Town Clerk Deb Beckett. Property owners whose values were changed due to errors and omissions also have the right of appeal.