There may be grounds for settling William Graham's tax case against the West Tisbury assessors, but they are not apparent in the proposal Mr. Graham made last week to the town selectmen. The town should reject Mr. Graham's offer and continue to defend itself vigorously against his complaint.
Mr. Graham owns 235 acres off Lambert's Cove Road assessed at more than $50 million. He asserts that he has paid more than he should have for real estate taxes on this property in 2003 and 2004, by about $319,164. He has appealed the values set by town assessors, on which his tax bills were based, to the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board. Separately, he has asked for a substantial abatement of his fiscal 2005 tax bill. He charges that there are "flaws in the mass appraisal system as it has been implemented in West Tisbury."
"This is not just about my taxes," Mr. Graham told Times writer Dan Cabot this week. "The whole system town-wide needs to be overhauled."
But, in the voluminous record of this appeal, Mr. Graham's side has presented no persuasive evidence to support Mr. Graham's view, or his suggestion, made in a letter presented to selectmen, that a) West Tisbury's elected assessors are incompetent and ill equipped to decide whether to defend the town's position; or b) that professional assessor Jo-Ann Resendes is reflexively defensive of her work and that of Vision Appraisal Technology of Northboro, the contractor who does the technical appraisal work for West Tisbury and many other Massachusetts towns; or c) that Vision Appraisal's methodology, blessed by state authorities for use in arriving at real estate values, is fatally flawed or misused.
Town officials and their constituents have every reason to believe that the assessors and Ms. Resendes have done their jobs fairly, thoughtfully, and correctly, and their contractor has done the same. Defending the town in this matter is worth what the town has spent and what it may be called upon to spend in the future as the anticipated appeals wear on.
What would be a reasonable basis for a settlement? Mr. Graham would agree to drop his appeal. In return, the town, because it has no interest whatever in treating any set of property owners unfairly, would agree to pay for a thorough review of its assessing practices by a professional, disinterested, knowledgeable expert, a master of sorts. If the review revealed flaws such as Mr. Graham has asserted, the town would agree to make necessary adjustments retroactively to assessed values of properties implicated by the conclusions. Mr. Graham would participate in those adjustments along with other property owners. If no such flaws were discovered, Mr. Graham would reimburse the town for the cost of its defense against his appeal, and both sides would walk away happy.
Sounds like a plan to us.