West Tisbury consultant settles for deep discount
Last week Vision Appraisal Technologies, for 15 years a consultant in West Tisbury's triennial revaluation of taxable property, offered to settle for $12,000 a bill of $31,000 for appearances before the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board (ATB). Kevin Comer, president of Vision, told the West Tisbury selectmen that in view of his long relationship with the town, he would accept the smaller sum, which he said would cover his expenses only. He said that neither he nor town officials could have predicted that William Graham's suit before the ATB would run for a record 36 days.
Money to pay the reduced bill will have to be appropriated by the voters. A special town meeting has been called for Jan. 17, to consider this and other expenses related to the Graham case.
Vision's contract with the town called for assisting with the revaluation of town real estate at a fee of $55,000 - a sum appropriated by the voters and paid in FY2005. If the firm were required to appear as a witness in any trial, the contract called for a per diem rate of $700. Stephen Ferreira, the Vision appraiser who worked on the 2002 revaluation (the one to which Mr. Graham objects) as well as others, assisted the town with the case, as well as appearing in court on nine days. Attorney Ellen Hutchinson, the lawyer for the West Tisbury assessors, told The Times that she regarded Mr. Ferreira's help as "invaluable" in explaining the town's procedures to the ATB.
Cynthia Riggs and Jonathan Revere, who attended the negotiation session last week, objected to the town's reaching any settlement. Because the extra sums in the Vision contract had not specifically been approved by the voters, they argued that the assessors requested those services illegally, and the bill does not have to be paid at all.
Earlier in the week, the selectmen met with Martin Coleman and Kenneth Croft of Coleman & Sons Appraisal Group. The bill from Coleman & Sons, for Mr. Croft's work on the Graham case, is for $72,000, including charges for many hours of appearances at the trial. Mr. Coleman, who has 40 years' experience in appraisals, said that no residential trial has even approached the hours of the Graham trial. He called his firm's work similar in scope to work done for a dispute over the assessments of the John Hancock Tower in Boston.
No agreement was reached, but Mr. Coleman expressed a willingness to negotiate the bill, and the selectmen are discussing making him an offer. If an agreement is reached, it must be approved by the voters.