When Wilton officials announced that the Town would seek a postponement of State-mandated property revaluation following the retirement of former town assessor Dave Lisowski, it set off speculation by some residents as to why it really happened. Was it an effort by first selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice to manipulate the mill rate? Was Lisowski’s retirement more than just unfortunate timing? Was it suspicious?

We asked Vanderslice to explain what went into the decision to postpone the revaluation, and what it means for Wilton residents.

GOOD Morning Wilton:  There seems to be some misunderstanding about the news about the revaluation and the delay by a year. How is this going to impact Wilton residents John and Jane Doe’s taxes in 2018?

Lynne Vanderslice:  First of all let me clarify:  the revaluation will still be effective Oct. 1, 2017. We’re just postponing the year in which it is implemented–rather than being implemented for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 property taxes, it will be implemented for FY-2020 property taxes.

The purpose of a revaluation is to redistribute the property tax burden by assessing all taxable property at the same level of value. The impact on a particular property depends on that individual property’s change in assessed value versus the change for all other properties.

I can’t answer the question of how one individual’s property taxes will be impacted because we won’t have those individual valuations until the revaluation is complete.

But I’ll use the Oct. 1 2012 revaluation as an example. The overall decline in residential property was 20%. Commercial property went up 7%, so there was a little bit of a shift, which resulted in commercial property assuming more of the tax burden. The total grand list was down by 17%.  If you were someone whose residential property went down only 10% versus the overall 20%, then you would have seen an increase in your share of the overall burden. If your house went down 30% versus the 20% average, then you were relieved of some of that burden.

That same will happen with this revaluation.

What is important to remember about the revaluation is this:  whether or not your share of the tax burden will change is very much dependent on what happens across the entire town. Your share only changes if you are different than the average. A resident recently contacted me; they recently purchased their home at a price that was 16% lower than the market value assigned during the 2012 revaluation. They expected to see a corresponding reduction in their property taxes once the revaluation is implemented–but that will only happen the total grand list is flat. That particular purchase price does not automatically translate into a 16% property tax reduction. It is the change in value in relationship to everybody else’s which determines the impact on one’s property taxes.

GMW:  How does the revaluation impact the mill rate?

LV:  The way you calculate the mill rate is:  the numerator is the total tax levy–the net costs required to fund the town and the schools and debt service; the denominator is the grand list. If total valuations go down, then the mill rate will have to go up. If valuations go up, then the mill rate will come down. We’re not going to know the impact until the revaluation is finalized.

For FY-19, because we’re using the same values as FY-16, updated for any additions to the grand list, there shouldn’t be a significant change in a resident’s share of the tax burden. For FY-17, we don’t have any significant commercial additions to the grand list. We have the new medical building across the street–it might add a little bit, but as of Oct. 1, there was significantly less work completed than there is now. As of Oct. 1, there wasn’t any real change as a result of the Sunrise assisted living facility (at the former Young’s Nursery property). So we’re not expecting to have any big shift in the grand list between residential and commercial.

GMW:  How does the town conduct a revaluation?

LV:  Under state statutes, a full revaluation must occur every 10 years. You can perform a partial statistical revaluation every fifth year, as was done for Oct. 1, 2012, but 2017 is a full revaluation.

The town hired Vision Government Solutions (often referred to as “Vision Appraisal”) to assist with the revaluation.

During the revaluation, the Town must verify the interior and exterior data for each property.  The Town performs this through data mailers to property owners, physical inspection of sold properties and visual inspection of properties. Vision Government Solutions’ appraisers analyze recent sales in order to develop parameters from which values are determined. The Town assessor reviews all the values and makes any adjustments that he/she determines necessary.

Commercial properties are also revalued. Those valuations are generally based on rental data, provided data or cost for partially completed structures. Again, the assessor must review the appropriateness of those values.

We’re not going inside every property. Generally, we’re going inside properties that have been sold, but the Vision Appraisal employees or the assessor will visually inspect the outside of every property. The assessor then has to review all of that data and become comfortable with it. Even after Vision Appraisal has finished their work, the assessor still has work to do. Ultimately, it’s the assessor who has to sign off on every single one of these valuations.

Those revaluations are then mailed to the property owners. Any pre-appeal meetings are held between Vision Government Solution’s appraisers and/or the assessor and property owners.

GMW:  What’s the state’s deadline for when the town assessor has to sign off on the valuations?

LV:  Even with an extension, the latest it can be completed by is the end of February 2018.

GMW:  So, why was the decision made to postpone implementing the revaluation?

LV:  Dave retired at the end of November, and it was an unplanned retirement. He wasn’t expecting to retire. We weren’t expecting him to retire. We have a consultant who has worked for us for a number of years. We mutually agreed to significantly increase his hours and the scope of the work that he will perform. He will be certifying the grand list for FY-19 property taxes. Despite his experience with Wilton, he indicated that he would not have enough time to be able to do the necessary work to certify a new, revalued grand list by the end of February.

We expect to hire an assessor, so the new assessor eventually will be signing off on the revaluation. That new assessor will need to become familiar with the Town and then perform the required work before completing the grand list. There was not sufficient time for a new assessor to do so by the statutory deadline for completion.

As we talked to others in the profession and other town assessors, they all agreed that no one could come in this late in the process and be able to become comfortable enough that they could sign off on the grand list by the deadline, which is why we made the decision to postpone. As disappointed as some might be it would be worse if we rushed the process and ended up with incorrect valuations.

GMW:  There have been rumors that the timing of Dave Lisowski’s retirement was staged to require the postponement–that you wanted to postpone a potential mill rate increase as a result of the revaluation.

LV:  That idea is 100% inaccurate. Dave was not intending to retire when he did, and his retirement was unexpected.

We were sensitive to the fact that postponing would be an issue for some. Wilton’s CFO Anne Kelly-Lenz provided all the facts surrounding the reasons and the process to the Board of Selectmen at a public meeting. I issued a press release, which is available on the Town’s homepage.

The decision to postpone was not one any of us would have chosen to make unless it was absolutely necessary. The idea that one of more of us would irresponsibly conspire to do that is illogical. There is no personal or political gain for any of us. There are a lot of things that go on in the month of December in a normal year and the postponement actually has created more work for myself, the department, Anne, town counsel Ira Bloom and Rep. Gail Lavielle.

I also think it is fair to say that such an action is not consistent with our track record as to how we conduct Town business.

When I hear rumors like this, I wonder if people have forgotten that my fellow selectmen and I pay property taxes ourselves.  The decisions we make impact us, just as they impact every other resident. Sometimes people forget that I was on the Board of Finance for seven years trying to minimize the increase in the taxes and that was one of the big reasons why I chose to run for office. I’m as motivated as any other resident to make sure that our taxes are the lowest they can be and still provide all the services that need to be provided. I’m as motivated as every other resident to have the lowest mill rate that we can have. I pay a lot of money in taxes and I want my home to maintain its market value just like every other resident.

If a resident hears something that concerns them or doesn’t make sense, I ask that they email me. It is in their best interest and the Town’s best interest when residents are well informed.

GMW:  Despite the postponement, can residents still request a hearing with the Board of Assessment Appeals?

LV:  Yes. The new grand list will be filed in February. Residents should remember those assessed values are based on the Oct. 1, 2012 revaluation values unless they have made additions or deletions to their property.

If a resident noted an error on their data mailer, they certainly should consider requesting an appeal hearing. Otherwise the change will be not made until the revaluation.

Hearing requests must be submitted by March 20. Hearings are held in April.

GMW:  What should people do if they have questions going forward?

LV:  You can email me. I would just remind people to please not contact me through Facebook or Facebook Messenger. I don’t check Messenger. I just found a message there from several weeks ago. I don’t use it, I shouldn’t use it and I also don’t respond on Facebook. I say it over and over again, but people still ask me questions on Facebook, so I just want that additional reminder.

GMW:  Is the State or the Town investigating ways to address the federal tax changes that no longer allow for deduction of income and property taxes?

LV:  Generally any initiative would need to be adopted on the state level, as Connecticut municipalities derive taxing authority from state statutes. Connecticut Department of Revenue Services commissioner Kevin Sullivan has announced Connecticut is considering a proposal to replace the income tax with payroll taxes paid by employers.

Activity in this area will be monitored by the Board of Finance and reported upon at their meetings–they announced that they would be working on this and Stewart Kronisberg would be taking the lead. I will be providing them with updates from my discussions with other Towns, municipal organizations, state personnel and legislators.