Assessments down all over Suffolk

Published 10:22 pm Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Real estate assessments in the city dropped an average of 3 percent this year, City Assessor Sid Daughtrey told council members Wednesday.

Reassessment notices will be mailed Friday. The news comes two weeks after Daughtrey announced he is leaving the city, on Friday, after 26 years.

Only one neighborhood in the city — the Boston and Williamstown area — will see an average increase. Assessments of homes in that area went up an average of 2.63 percent.

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Every other neighborhood in the city either remained level or saw an average decrease. The low point was in the Belmont Park neighborhood, which tallied an average 12.47-percent decrease.

For a homeowner whose home was assessed at $250,000 last year, a 3-percent drop would mean $68 less on the tax bill if the tax rate stays the same. It currently is set at 91 cents per $100 of value.

Assessments are determined using data such as sale prices of homes in the area. The average sale price in the city rose slightly in the last year, from $250,000 to $255,000.

The number of foreclosures, however, also shot up. The city saw 411 foreclosures in 2010, compared to only 48 in 2006.

Daughtrey said foreclosure prices are not taken directly into account in determining assessments. However, the sale of a foreclosed home from the financial institution to the new owner is factored into the assessment process. In addition, having foreclosed homes in the area can affect the ticket prices of “arm’s-length” sales, Daughtrey said.

The Boston and Williamstown area also had the biggest increase in last year’s assessments, rising by about 10 percent. Daughtrey said the increase is to bring those assessments more in line with equitable values. In past years, he said, those properties may have been under-assessed because the neighborhood has very low turnover rates.

The City Council also is considering tweaks to a number of tax abatement programs the city offers.

Staff has recommended that charitable organizations receiving tax-exempt status be required to recertify that status every three years. The city has run into a few instances, for example, of churches renting out their old parsonages, rather than using them for their original purpose.

Also, the city is considering removing the “open space” portion of the land-use tax abatement program. Golf courses, for example, fall under the open space section.

Owners who still want to receive tax breaks on open space could apply for a conservation easement, Daughtrey said.

A property owner who does not agree with his reassessment has a grievance process. First, he should call 514-7475 to schedule an informal meeting with the assessor who dealt with their property. If the meeting does not resolve the owner’s concerns, the owner can file an application with the Board of Equalization, which is made up of property owners in Suffolk appointed by the Circuit Court. Those not satisfied with the board’s decision can appeal to the Circuit Court.