Bill Graham appeals tax board ruling
Throughout his time-consuming and expensive legal battle with the West Tisbury assessors, William Graham warned that he would appeal if the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board (ATB) ruled against him. He has done just that.
The ATB trial, then the longest running residential case ever decided by the board, required 36 days for testimony and argument and generated reams of paper and more than 450 exhibits. In June 2006, the ATB decided in favor of the West Tisbury assessors, ruling that Mr. Graham's property tax assessments for 2003 and 2004 were 99 percent accurate.
Last month, Mr. Graham filed an appeal with the Massachusetts Court of Appeals. His legal brief outlining how the ATB erred in reaching its decision is due in early November.
Once the brief is filed, the town will file a response.
The appeals court could issue a decision based on the written record or decide to hear oral arguments if there appear to be significant legal issues involved. A decision is not expected for at least eight months.
As the appellant, Mr. Graham must show that the ATB ruling is based on errors of law or that the ATB findings are not supported by substantial evidence.
Mr. Graham appealed his 2003 and 2004 assessments to the ATB, claiming that the town's assessments were unfair. He owns seven properties totaling 235 acres off Lamberts Cove Road, assessed at $51,116,700. By Mr. Graham's calculations, his properties were worth only $20,240,000.
The ATB verdict made no change in five of the assessments and a reduction in two others of $528,500. That reduction lowered Mr. Graham's overall assessments to $50,588,200 - a one percent change.
Mr. Graham's appeal will rest on three points, according to a statement of the issues provided to Ellen Hutchinson, attorney for the board of assessors, by Mr. Graham's attorneys.
Mr. Graham will argue that the ATB erred when it determined: that the 2002 revaluation and certification process was not compromised by underlying errors that resulted in unreliable assessed values that overvalued the Graham properties; that Mr. Graham had not presented substantial evidence establishing that the assessors engaged in a scheme of disproportionate assessment with regard to properties in the zoning district that includes Mr. Graham's property; and that Mr. Graham had not established by substantial evidence of comparable assessments that his properties were not overvalued in the 2002 revaluation.
Yesterday in a prepared statement provided to The Times, Ms. Hutchinson said, "The Appellate Tax Board found that there were significant conceptual errors in the case presented by the appellants. Moreover, the board explicitly found no evidence to support the appellants' various theories that mistakes were made during the revaluation and that the Graham properties were overvalued as a result. We are hopeful the Appeals Court will uphold these findings and the decision of the appellate tax board in favor of the West Tisbury assessors."
Mr. Graham is represented by Adam P. Kahn, a member of the Boston law firm Foley Hoag. Mr. Kahn could not be reached late yesterday afternoon for comment.
Throughout the lead up to the trial and the four months of testimony, Mr. Graham and his supporters questioned the professionalism, honesty, and competence of members of the board of assessors and West Tisbury principal assessor Jo-Ann Resendes.
Mr. Graham said he wanted to expose flaws in the mass appraisal system as it has been implemented in West Tisbury.
By Mr. Graham's accounting, his overpayments for 2003 and 2004 property taxes totaled $319,164. The ATB ruled that Mr. Graham is due a refund of $2,616 for 2003 and $2,813 for 2004.
According to the ATB findings Mr. Graham and his attorneys failed to make a credible case.
In one instance the board wrote, "In the present appeals, the appellants did provide some disjointed but sparse comparable assessment data. They did not, however, provide a coherent and detailed comparable sales analysis. In most instances, they failed to make any adjustments for their purportedly comparable assessment properties' obvious differences with the juxtaposed Graham properties and often failed to properly compare Graham property assessments, for land and improvement values, to comparable property assessments, for land and improvement values. Consequently, the Board found and ruled that the appellants' comparable assessment methodology was spurious and any values derived from it were hollow and unfounded."