The assessments of homeowner properties in Berlin and New Britain, Connecticut: Is it a rigged game against the homeowners?

Town of Berlin, ConnecticutOn February 6, 2011, the Berlin Citizen published a flattering post on Timothy Stewart, Mayor of New Britain, and 6th District Republican candidate for State Senator.  On February 7, 2011, I took issue with its assertion that Tim held the line on taxes and controlled spending, and posted a comment saying such on the Berlin Citizen’s webpage where the flattering post on Timothy Stewart appeared.

I disputed that assertion because even though the mill rate in New Britain had indeed been controlled under Tim, the assessments of properties in New Britain—the underlying appraisals for which were farmed out by the City of New Britain to an outside appraisal service (as opposed to being conducted in-house by the City’s Assessor) every five years or so—were not necessarily under control.  Consequently, in spite of the mill rate remaining under 50 mills, the New Britain homeowner might end up paying higher taxes as a result of increases in appraised values of his properties provided by the outside appraisal service.

Consider the following:  you provide appraisal services for municipalities; a City, desperate for property tax revenues, has full and complete power to select, engage, and pay you to appraise ALL of the properties in its municipality every five years until the end of time; consequently, that City would pay you a lot of money to perform this service over many, many years; and as an astute business person, who loves making money, you are fully aware that if you please that City with your appraisals, that it is likely that the City will continue to engage you and pay you big bucks for performing all of its property appraisals forever into the future.  Don’t you think that there might be a teeny-weeny bias in your property appraisals in favor of the City?  Don’t you think that your appraisals might average higher than for what the homeowners could actually sell those homes?

Consequently, I believe that it was not enough merely to control the mill rate.  Regularly periodic assessed values of properties may indeed be skewed in favor of the municipalities, considering they have full power to select, engage, and pay these outside appraisers.  Imagine the resulting assessments of properties if the property owners could select their own appraisers?  I suspect that the assessments would be significantly lower.

What is my assessment of the assessment process of municipalities, including that of New Britain, Berlin, and all the other Connecticut cities and towns that hire an outside appraisal service to appraise properties?  It is a rigged game, in favor of the municipalities, at the expense of the property owners.  And although there is an appeals process to dispute the appraisals provided by the appraisal service, unless you know someone on the appeals board, good luck.

For those of you who did not see my comment posted on the Berlin Citizen on February 7th, I provide it below for those who may be interested in reading it.

I had the opportunity of serving under Tim Stewart on New Britain’s Board of Finance and Taxation. Regarding Tim’s statement that he held the line on taxes and controlled spending, I would dispute that assertion. Although the City’s mill rate has been controlled, the periodic assessments by Vision Appraisal (the company paid by the City to assess the properties of New Britain’s residents) drove the value of my home–a raised-ranch house constructed in 1968 and requiring $100,000 in renovations–significantly above its fair market value, necessitating the selling of my home at half of Vision Appraisal’s appraised value, since I could not afford the property taxes.

Controlling spending is not enough as mayor of New Britain. The mayor needs to cut spending by laying off municipal employees, including employees in the Education Department. When I served on the Board of Finance and Taxation around 2004, the median salary of New Britain teachers was ~$80,000. Firemen and police officers often averaged similar salaries with ridiculous overtime compensation. Plus the Education and virtually all of the other departments were over-staffed with high paying administrators: the Superintendent of Schools was paid ~$155,000; a bunch of Assistant Superintendents were paid ~$130,000; a number of pincipals were paid ~$120,000; and assistant principals $~100,000. I do not see these salaries reflective of controlled spending.

Needless to say, a Democratic mayor would have done much worse for the taxpayers of the City of New Britain. But a mayor of a City overburdening its lower-middle class residents with unaffordable taxes needs to aggressively cut spending, not merely hold the line.

The Barefoot Accountant

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About Connecticut Politics

William Brighenti is a Certified Public Accountant and Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, who operates a public accounting firm, Accountants CPA Hartford, Connecticut, LLC. Bill began his career in public accounting over thirty years ago. He provides a variety of accounting, tax, and QuickBooks consulting services to individuals and business across a wide spectrum of industries. Bill writes an accounting, tax, and QuickBooks blog under the penname, "The Barefoot Accountant". William Brighenti created the blog, Connecticut Politics, because of the need for a voice to cry out loud--Vox Clamantis--explaining the reasons for the terrible state of the economy in the United States as well as urging change and reform before the United States becomes a third world country.
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