West Tisbury assessment appealed to county
Seven Gates resident Joanie Ames asked the West Tisbury selectmen at their meeting last week to consider using the seven-member Dukes County commission to handle appeals of property tax assessments in an effort to save on legal bills.
"People have an option," she said. "They can handle these at the county level."
The selectmen had no comment on the proposal, an avenue which few people knew existed and one that Ms. Ames and Jonathan Revere, also a resident of Seven Gates, recently decided to try to use.
A property owner unhappy with his or her assessment may appeal to the town board of assessors for an abatement during the filing period, which is normally 30 days after the tax bill is received at the end of December, according to principal assessor Jo-Ann Resendes. The board has three months to make a decision on that appeal and then notifies the taxpayer, who then has three months to decide whether to file an appeal with the state, she said.
An alternative appeal filing option is the county commissioners, Ms. Rezendes said, adding that she knows of only one time many years ago that a West Tisbury resident made such an appeal, and that case was transferred to the state appeals board.
If an appeal goes to the county commissioners, they must notify the town assessors, which have 30 days to either transfer the appeal to the state Appellate Tax Board or do nothing, Ms. Resendes said. The assessors had not received notice of Mr. Revere's filing with the county, she said.
Winn Davis, Dukes County manager, said if the assessors take no action in 30 days, the county board has to take the case. Mr. Davis said the process at the county level is very informal and doesn't necessarily require use of an attorney.
He confirmed that the county had received appeals from Mr. Revere and Ms. Ames filed with the clerk of the county commission, who is also clerk of courts. The appeal process, he said, "will be a learning experience for all of us, since we haven't dealt with it in 20 years."
It is unlikely the county commissioners, a body that has no demonstrated skills for evaluating property values, will get the opportunity, Cynthia Mitchell, who is on the West Tisbury board of assessors, said this week.
Mr. Revere appealed to the board of assessors his original property assessment of $4,367,700 and tax bill of $20,833 for his 6.1-acre property at 48 Forest Road in Seven Gates, Ms. Resendes said. The board reduced the assessed value by $208,300, resulting in an abatement of $993, she said.
Even though Mr. Revere received a reduction in his tax bill, he is appealing the final assessment, he said, "because I think the assessors' methods are flawed. I don't understand how they arrived at it." He said the assessors' deliberations are in executive session.
"I don't expect to win a dime," said Mr. Revere, who added that he wants the way the assessors arrive at their decisions to be made public. He said the county appeal option is listed on the abatement notice.
Ms. Ames filed with the board of assessors for an abatement on her property assessment, Ms. Resendes said. Her property was originally valued at $4,146,600, which the assessors reduced by $197,600, resulting in a tax bill abatement of $942, she said.
At last Wednesday's selectmen's meeting, Ms. Ames questioned whether the current method of sending all cases to the state appeals board provides "fair and equitable treatment" to the taxpayers, and she questioned the high legal costs associated with a formal appeal to the appellate tax board.
In particular, she cited residents Tim and Ellen Guiney, saying they were required to get an attorney for their appeal to the Appellate Tax Board even though they did not want to. "It's a shame the assessors forced the Guineys into using lawyers," she said.
Ms. Mitchell, who was at the selectmen's at the meeting, said she estimated the Guiney case scheduled to be heard in December would cost the town $5,000 in legal fees. "I can't imagine dealing with a case without counsel," she added, in response to Ms. Ames's criticisms.
Mr. Revere, a frequent critic of the assessors, backed Ms. Ames's proposal that the selectmen rely on the county commissioners. "I think it's a viable alternative," he said.
Mr. Revere also criticized the state appellate tax board. "The appeals tax board is riddled with cronyism," he said. He noted that the county commissioners are local and elected officials who are granted the right by law to take the appeals.
Ms. Ames asked the selectmen what they thought could be done to reduce the legal bills incurred by Ellen Hutchinson, the outside attorney the town has relied on for representation before the appellate tax board.
Ms. Hutchinson successfully defended the town against William Graham's lengthy appeal of his tax bill for 235 acres of property off Lambert's Cove Road, which was assessed at more than $50 million. The legal expenses for that lengthy appeal process amounted to more than $250,000.
Ms. Resendes confirmed that Mr. Graham has filed appeals with the Appellate Tax Board for his 2005 and 2006 assessments. The date for the 2005 appeal has been postponed until April, Ms. Mitchell told the selectmen.
Selectmen Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter told Ms. Ames that the voters at the town meeting in January approved the legal fees accrued by the assessors. He said the town was very clear about allowing the assessors to spend the money as they saw fit. "I stand by that decision," Mr. Manter said.
Ms. Mitchell also reported at the meeting that the assessors have $45,000 on hand for the current fiscal year and have incurred $2,500 in expenses. She said all pending court cases have been settled.