In a letter, Mr. Graham proposes terms of a settlement with West Tisbury
Following is the text of a letter delivered by William Graham to the West Tisbury selectmen on October 5, proposing that the selectmen join him in discussions aimed at settling the appeal of his property valuation that is now before the state's Appellate Tax Board.
My case with the board of assessors has taken an inordinate amount of time and money from both sides. Legal expenses will continue to mount as we proceed with a multiple-day view of properties all over Martha's Vineyard, prepare and file trial briefs, conduct final arguments, and, inevitably, pursue appeals.
I have always thought that this case could have been resolved through negotiations. I approached the board in the fall of 2004 and again in the spring of 2005 and offered to give up my claim for reimbursement of back taxes if the assessors would agree to fix the system of assessment going forward. In other words, if the assessors had agreed to solve the problem, it would have cost the town nothing beyond the legal fees incurred until then.
I had thought, once the trial began, that I wouldn't make another settlement offer and there is a part of me that wants to let events take their course. However, as much as I want to recover the considerable sum that I believe is owed me, I am mindful that the people who would pay are not those who have caused the problems. I have no desire to further add to the tax burden of West Tisbury residents. I'm still willing to give up my claim for reimbursement if we can reach a settlement which fixes the flaws in the mass appraisal system as it has been implemented in West Tisbury, but it's become clear that no settlement is possible unless you, as selectmen decide to get involved.
It always puzzled me that the board of assessors seemed so disinterested in discussing a settlement. After listening to Michael Colaneri testify at trial, I realized that it was unclear if the elected assessors were the people deciding whether to settle the case. It had not occurred to me before trial that Mr. Colaneri would prove to know so little about the system of mass appraisal used in West Tisbury, or that he depended so entirely on JoAnn Resendes and Vision Appraisal Technology. Mr. Colaneri was admirably candid in acknowledging that he was "not familiar with the system the mass appraisal company used."
[Mr. Graham cites transcripts of Mr. Colaneri's testimony furnished to the selectmen with Mr. Graham's letter. They are omitted here and following. Ed.]
He forthrightly explained that he was not a good source of information about assessing practices in West Tisbury because he only spent thirty minutes to an hour a week fulfilling his duties as chairman.
A summary of Mr. Colaneri's testimony would make this letter far too long, so I'm supplying you with the transcript of his testimony, along with the following references, which are not exhaustive:
Unfamiliarity with property record cards;
Unfamiliarity with key terms used in mass appraisal system;
Unfamiliarity with my properties and many of the properties used as comparables;
Unfamiliarity with what actions the board had taken after my abatement hearing;
Reliance on Jo-Ann Resendes and Vision Appraisal for information as to how the mass appraisal system works.
lt is commendable that Mr. Colaneri was so forthright, but his testimony points to a fundamental problem: if the chairman of the board of assessors doesn't know how the mass appraisal system should work, it's impossible for him decide whether or not the system is working properly. If he doesn't know that, he cannot say whether there should be a settlement. Unfortunately, this is not a problem that he can properly solve by relying on Ms. Resendes and employees of Vision Technology, because it's their conduct that's in issue. Asking an employee or consultant whose conduct is in question to be the judge of their own case is not appropriate.
Recent experience in Edgartown suggests that Vision Appraisal is not infallible, but we only know that because the assessors there were able to take an independent look at Vision's assessments and acknowledge the problems. Mr. Colaneri has testified that he does not have the knowledge to do this. Ms. Resendes and Vision Appraisal have worked closely together for years. Her work and Vision's work are inseparable at this point. It is only human if she feels loyalty to Vision as well as to West Tisbury. It is only human if she feels defensive about the assessments they have produced together over the years. It is unfair for us to expect Ms. Resendes to be able to make unbiased decisions about what to do in these circumstances, yet, by default, she is the one who will decide whether and how the town continues to respond to this case and other cases, unless you as selectmen decide to act.
If you agree that a negotiated settlement is in everyone's interest, then I respectfully urge you to join me in discussing how we can achieve it. For my part, if you will enter into the process, I will join with you to ask the Appellate Tax Board to postpone further proceedings and stop the mounting legal fees while we try to reach a settlement. If you are willing to do so and we can find a way to fix the system going forward, I will forego reimbursement of back taxes not only for 2003 and 2004 (the two tax years involved in this case), but for the 2005 tax year as well.
Thank you for your consideration.