Tisbury Great Pond neighbors face double, triple real estate tax hikes
Jaw-dropping property tax increases greeted many taxpayers who own property near Tisbury Great Pond in West Tisbury when they opened tax bills earlier this month. Some found bills doubled and tripled from the year before.
Recent property sales in the area resulted in a substantial increase in valuations, because the state mandated formula used for valuations is based heavily on comparable sales. The town recently completed a triennial revaluation as required by law for fiscal year 2008, which began on July 1, 2007.
Some unhappy taxpayers attended the West Tisbury assessors regular meeting on Tuesday January 15. Principal assessor Kristina West said a tight agenda with previously scheduled conference calls allowed only about 15 minutes to talk about the tax issues.
"We weren't able to give them as much time as they wanted in order to discuss it," said Ms. West. "Under Massachusetts law we have to assess them at full fair cash value. As property values are going up, their assessments are going to keep going up. There's unfortunately not much that anybody can do about it." (For more on the process see "The assessing process, a mix of science, sales and art," on page 7.)
A group of about 15 concerned taxpayers met on Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Howes House in West Tisbury, to exchange information and plan responses. Jonathan Revere and Joanie Ames, both residents of the West Tisbury north shore neighborhood of Seven Gates and vocal critics of the town assessors, led a discussion about strategies to apply for tax abatements.
Mr. Revere told The Times he is involved with a group that intends to file as many abatement applications as possible. He accused the town of unfairly raising assessments in desirable shorefront areas, so that taxes in other neighborhoods will remain lower.
The revaluation and resulting increases presents a difficult dilemma said some long-time property owners. They have an asset many times more valuable than their original property investment, but they may be forced to sell it, because the tax liability strains the limits of an average budget.
"The system is really challenging for people who have normal jobs and financial backgrounds," said Andrew Moore, an artist whose family owns a modest waterfront home on Middle Point Road. "We pay a good amount of property tax, we always have. We realize it's a nice piece of land, and we do our part, but at some point it seems unfair. Everyone is going to have to face this issue. It may be starting out at the ponds and the oceanfront, but it will move inland. When it affects real people, what do you want, neighborhoods with people that care about each other, or a desolate place that's only visited randomly a few times a year by people who can afford it?"
"There's this sort of disconnect," said Suzanna Sturgis, "between what the place is worth in practical terms, and what the market says it's worth, which is sort of insane." Her family owns a 4.2-acre parcel on Tisbury Great Pond. They rent the 1,024-square-foot waterfront home for eight or nine prime summer weeks, to cover the cost of taxes.
She says last year the property was valued at $2,123,800, and the tax bill was $9,568. This year, the property is assessed at $4,419,700, and the tax bill is $17,512.
"If you have no intention of selling," said Ms. Sturgis, "it's totally theoretical money, whereas the taxes have to be paid in real money by February 1. We were barely hanging on with the tax being half the bill it is now. Even to rent it out all summer, with absolutely no margin for error, would leave us no money for maintenance, and no opportunity for family members to use it. We're leaning toward selling."
Three sales in 2006, at prices well above assessed value, drove this year's assessments skyward. Millard Drexler sold three separate parcels, 225, 226, and 234 Middle Point Road,, in October of 2006 for a total of $19.6 million. Mr. Drexler is the chief executive officer of J. Crew Group, Inc., a successful clothing company.
A property at 70 Pond View Farm Road was assessed last year at $1.39 million. It includes a two-story house with nearly 2,100 feet of living space, sitting on 7.2 acres. The property sold in June, 2006 for $3.25 million.
Another high profile sale was a property at 50 Plum Bush Point, which sold in March 2006 for $2.7 million. It was assessed at the time of the sale for $1.9 million, and is currently assessed at $2.4 million.
The effect on assessments and tax bills for nearby properties reflects the state's sales-based assessment formula.
A property at 208 Middle Point Road is classified as a camp, with 420 square feet of living space, a garage, and two wood frame sheds. The 2.2-acre property was assessed last year at a value of $1.9 million. This year, the assessed value is $5.9 million.
A parcel at 69 Pond View Rd. was assessed last year at $2.0 million, and rose this year to an assessed value of $3.4 million.
West Tisbury assessors plan to schedule another informational meeting with representatives from Vision Appraisal Technology, the company that conducted the revaluation, for early February. A previous informational meeting with the company, though well advertised, was poorly attended. That meeting was scheduled before tax bills were sent. Any application for abatement is due on February 1, and must be postmarked by regular mail on that date, or received by assessors before 4:30 pm, the close of business on that day.