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Norwalk reval prompts ‘serious concerns’

Correction, 10 p.m., Dec. 15: Bob Barron is Chief Financial Officer. Correction, 1:43 p.m.: Mayor Rilling co-owns a home. Updated, 7:09 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling said Wednesday that he has “serious concerns” about the latest Norwalk property revaluation, now in the process of being finalized.

His condo, and those of identical condos in his complex, was undervalued, while appraisals of other condos in the complex went up, Rilling said. In addition, there was a nonfunctional website link sent out to taxpayers, confusing their efforts to schedule hearings to challenge their preliminary assessments.

“This is totally unacceptable,” Rilling said.

NancyOnNorwalk was alerted to the latter situation Wednesday by an email from a reader. Leah Reeves wrote:

“{T}he web address to schedule a hearing is incorrect on the letter and doesn’t work.  it lists www.norwalk.ct.org/hearing

“That site takes you to a page and says there is an error.  When you call the phone number listed 203-854-4098, if you don’t reach someone it goes to a voicemail.  I left a voicemail a week and a half ago, and it was never returned.  When I called again on Monday, Tyler Tech (the company facilitating the assessments) stated that they do not have access to the voicemail.  How many residents have left messages and have not been responded too?  How many have tried to schedule a hearing and can’t?

“The bottom line is that residents do not have the correct information and calls are not being returned in order to have their due process to understand their tax assessment and challenge it if necessary.  Time is running out, their slots are filling up.  If people are away the week of Christmas, sorry, you’re out of luck then if you need an evening appointment, because there is little available.”

 

“What an embarrassment.  Another example of too much administration fat and no one doing their jobs,” she wrote.

Rilling said that the City had provided a bad link to Tyler Technologies, the firm which is assisting the Tax Assessor’s Office in the reval. An investigation is underway and Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan will be issuing a press release, according to Rilling.

“How could it be that we gave them a website address that was wrong?” Rilling asked.

Chief Financial Officer Bob Barron in an email described the reval process and offered more information about the incorrect link:

“The City of Norwalk takes seriously any concerns of its taxpayers regarding the accuracy of the valuations of the property that they own.  The city’s Tax Assessor office personnel along with its engaged consultant have certified staff to evaluate the accuracy of its appraisals along with a process to find and adjust any inconsistencies in the data retained in its office.  In the attached copy of the ‘Notification of Preliminary Real Property Value’ letter that was mailed to all taxpayers at the end of November, there were two links provided to schedule an informal hearing.  In the first batch of letters sent, there was an error in one of the links; however, in all letters at least one of the links to schedule a hearing was valid.  The erroneous link was written as ‘www.norwalk.ct.org/hearing’ when it should have read www.norwalkct.org/hearing  All letters did contain the valid www.tylertech.com/schedule link.  As of today, 1,032 residential and 160 commercial informal hearings have been scheduled.

“Out of an abundance of caution and in an effort to make sure that all Norwalk taxpayers have an opportunity to review their preliminary appraisals with the city’s appraisal firm, Tyler Technologies, the City of Norwalk has added the following dates and times for informal hearings:

 

“Wednesday, January 2, 2018 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

“Thursday, January 3, 2018 from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm

“Friday, January 4, 2018 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

“Saturday, January 5, 2018 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

 

“All of the January hearings will be held in the Community Room of the Norwalk City Hall and can be scheduled utilizing the above URL links.”

 

There have been remarks in the NancyOnNorwalk comments section about Rilling’s appraisal.

“Why did the Mayor ‘s appraisal decrease by 9% while his neighbors in the same condominium complex decreased by 5%?” a commenter using the name “Paul” wrote on Dec. 6. “Also the house he owns with his daughter decreased by 1%. Also commercial residential properties increased from 35% to as high as WayPointe that went up 49%! This means rents in Norwalk will increase higher than usual. This is not good for Norwalk. The rents may become higher than Stamford. #rilling”

Asked about this comment, Rilling said in a Wednesday phone call that he had been “disappointed and shocked” when his preliminary appraisal arrived because the appraisal said his condo was worth less than he paid for it.

Rilling bought the Gillies Lane condo in 2012, for $290,000, according to the City website. It’s appraised at $269,910. Rilling co-owns 9 Hunter’s Lane; the revaluation appraisal shows it decreasing in value, from $507,510 to $500,920, according to the City’s website.

Rilling said he was “very concerned” about the appraisal on his condo and called Barron.

“He looked it up,” Rilling said. “There were 40 properties with similar characteristics that had reduced in value by 9 percent or more … They used a system that looks at recent sales but they were no recent sales to mine. He realized probably was there was a problem.”

“I may not be the most popular guy in Ledgebrook because the valuations will go up,” Rilling said.

Barron, in his email, said:

“The Mayor reached out to me immediately after receiving his preliminary appraisal letter in early December and inquired as to why his property value had dropped.  We immediately analyzed the data for the Ledgebrook Drive and Gillies Lane properties and found that all 54 units with 1,662 square feet of living area had averaged a decrease of 9.1% and that the 35 units with more square feet and the 133 units with less square feet of living area averaged an increase of 4.9%.   All of these changes in appraised values were generated by Tyler Technology’s analysis of sales data in the past year employing the Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal methodology, also called CAMA, which is a software package used by government agencies to help establish real estate appraisals.  These preliminary appraisal values are data driven, and as part of the grand list development process, the City of Norwalk has provided an informal hearing process to discuss with taxpayers any inconsistencies that they have identified and to make adjustments as necessary before the grand list is finalized at the end of January.  The Mayor was our first responder and our analysis will generate a change in his and the other 53 units’ appraisals.”

“I’ll get thrown out of the compound,” Rilling quipped.

Connecticut municipalities are mandated by law to revalue their taxpayers’ properties every five years.

Rilling said that it would be desirable to see values going back up from levels reached in the 2008 recession.  However, he noted, politicians take heat for “stagnant property values” but also get complaints if the valuations go up.

An increase in a property valuation doesn’t automatically mean an increase in the resultant tax bill, because the tax bill is derived from the mill rate and the operating budget, he said.

“We all live in town. We want to make sure we do the right thing we want to keep the taxes under control,” Rilling said. “The last thing we want is for people to move out because of their taxes.”

33 comments

Lisa Brinton December 13, 2018 at 7:51 am

“An investigation is underway and Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan will be issuing a press release, according to Rilling.”

Yes, that press release, the POKO update press release, the hidden, two year old, Chinese scam press release…

Does anybody see a pattern here?

No accountability, no transparency, no sense of urgency, no professional management from this mayor; just nice videos for the Baby Boomer generation encouraging them to have one last meal or shop before selling their over-valued, over-taxed properties in this mismanaged city. We can do better. #OurNorwalkOurFuture.

Andrew December 13, 2018 at 8:28 am

The other property co owned by the Mayor.

9 Hunters Lane
2017 $507,510
2018 $500,920

Whereas my families property nearby a 8.2% increase. Interestingly it is now appraised at the price we tried to sell it for. Couldn’t and had to reduce by 13% in order to get an offer. The appraisal may be going up; but, the market is heading in other direction. Ask any realtor in Norwalk right now what is happening.

Debora Goldstein December 13, 2018 at 9:22 am

It doesn’t matter how many hearings are scheduled. The vast majority of the City will not have the time to fight their assessments.

Focusing on a misplaced period, instead of recognizing that pretty much every residential property owner (I haven’t been hearing any complaints from commercial owners.) has received valuations that far exceed what the market dictates.

When people are talking about stagnant property values, they mean what they can sell their home for, not what Tyler Technologies says they can sell their home for, for the purpose of taxing everyone enough to pay for the new “cabinet-level” management structure and other accoutrements needed by a third term Mayor who still hasn’t been able to do the job he ran for in 2013 without tons of expensive help.

Fred Wilms December 13, 2018 at 9:28 am

I have serious concerns about the professional capabilities of Tyler.
We purchased our home last September for $910,000. The Bank appraisal almost matched that.
Tyler says our house is worth $1.6 MILLION. They are also severely overvaluing many of our neighbors on Westview Lane.
I am hoping this does not turn into a botched revaluation.

Ken December 13, 2018 at 9:52 am

My waterfront lot is one of 6 identical side-by-side lots. Each is appraised differently. My house seems to be way over appraised by about 50%. My neighbor’s house, similar to mine in size and features, is under appraised, etc. A neighbors house that sold this past summer for $999,000, is appraised for $887,000. They’re happy, I’m sure. I could go on, but this seems typical.

Jeff December 13, 2018 at 9:55 am

I have my appointment scheduled. For some reason my street’s land value went up 9% while most adjacent streets actually had their values lowered. My increase was 23% and about $200,000 more than what I’ve had several agents tell me I can sell for this year (we are looking into listing). I wasn’t the worst of my neighborhood – some were up over 80% with no renovations.

Bryan Meek December 13, 2018 at 10:36 am

Tyler is the vendor we use for G/L software. This was their original offering, I don’t know when they got into asset valuations but clearly things are off. What makes it worse is the lack of communication. A month later and still no one has bothered to report on the mean and median values in some meaningful segmentations of the city.

Paul December 13, 2018 at 11:14 am

I know Tyler is sending new updated appraisals with HIGHER VALUES!!!

SHAMELESS. Although the Mayor said “An increase in a property valuation doesn’t automatically mean an increase in the resultant tax bill, because the tax bill is derived from the mill rate and the operating budget.” However the taxpayer’s proportionate share of the grand list will increase. That means an increase in the budget (which will effectively increase the new mill rate) and an assessment increase will result in higher taxes (odds are it will be higher than 5%). Lets not forget HIGHER REAL TAXES TAXES REDUCE THE VALUE OF THE PROPERTY.

Also the state state tax deduction for the 2018 federal income tax is limited to $10,000 ( real estate, sales, and state income tax).

Bryan Meek December 13, 2018 at 11:45 am

Paul, the limitation on schedule A is for sales and property tax, or income and property tax. You could never take both sales and income tax….one or the other. The other thing that never gets mentioned is the floor for Alternative Minimum Tax (the SALT deduction that has been law for 5 decades now) is much, much higher. It’s jumping from $110k to $1 million for married couples. This is a huge factor no one is talking about because the media would rather you focus on how bad Trump is.

Patrick Cooper December 13, 2018 at 12:20 pm

Well here we have it, the “revaluation” is next up in weekly financial fiasco’s care of the Rilling administration. I mean, between the PoKo lawsuit, the Chinese teenage hacker’s theft of $900,000, and the Harbor Keeper’s alarm bells about the environmental impact of the Walk Bridge, poor Harry is having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very poor week. Worse – it’s public.

That the taxpayers of this city do not have a clear path to challenge this is exhibit A in why we need charter reform.

That Harry provides “his-story” of Real Estate values in Norwalk since 2008 (a decade ago) shows a familiar script. I believe this week a Stamford Court Judge was forced to hear a lullaby by Tim Sheehan about PoKo – which began all the way back in 1955. Elvis was the king. Burger’s we’re a nickel. Milk was delivered. And the “Great Flood” gave us the Tyvek Temple. Riiiiiiiiiiiiight.

There is a reason Harry hasn’t declared yet. This little property valuation scam & tax con game may actually – finally – be the deep enough paper-cut that wakes the dumb-blue voter’s in this city. Maybe now – Norwalk will begin to realize how severely our municipal government is broken, and is misrepresenting Norwalk taxpayers.

#asealfromtheaquariumshouldbemayor

Jeff December 13, 2018 at 12:38 pm

@Bryan The AMT change definitely should help. I just haven’t been able to figure out yet what my net change will be, despite having gone through the IRS table a few times. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have to pay a significant amount or if I receive a significant refund for 2018.

Bryan Meek December 13, 2018 at 3:00 pm

@Jeff. Empty nesters pulling in $300k and/or with an expensive home are going to get hit slightly and it goes up from there under those conditions. Everyone else is going to be fine and come out positively, mostly small business owners with young families and modest homes.

Where the reval could end up stinging Norwalk is in state funding if ours are above the rest of the state, look for the Governor to reduce grants which means more property taxes.

Claire Schoen December 13, 2018 at 4:20 pm

Another example of why NancyOnNorwalk is such a gem for all of us — this article, these follow-up comments — all put pressure on the city and keep it accountable.

Please consider supporting our NewsMatch campaign — your donation (tax-deductible) will be matched up to $1000. And I’ll throw in a free dinner to the next person to donate that $1000 🙂

https://www.newsmatch.org/organizations/nancy-on-norwalk

Rick December 13, 2018 at 8:01 pm

I like to comment on what Firetree has done to the latest Norwalk property revaluation in our area? Its made it go up?

Joel December 14, 2018 at 6:44 am

While we are all ringing our hands about the process of revaluation, let us not forget the fundamental problem, which is that spending in the city is out of control. Early budget requests are ridiculous and the knee-jerk reaction, as always,is to simply hand the taxpayers the bill. Enough!! The city needs to tighten things up and stop abusing taxpayers.

K.Curley December 14, 2018 at 9:18 am

@PatrickCooper
I was really paying attention to your comments until I got to “the dumb blue voters” comment. This is what turns people off.

John M. December 14, 2018 at 10:52 am

Strange coincidence: although each property on Seabreeze Place has a different valuation from the last reassessment, numbers 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 15 and 19, as well as 37 and 41 Naromake, 36 Neptune, and several addresses on Highland Avenue and Harborview Avenue, have increased in this assessment by EXACTLY THE SAME AMOUNT: 43%. That’s all I had time to look up. Could have done this Norwalk re-evaluation from a cellphone.

Patrick Cooper December 14, 2018 at 11:01 am

@K.Curley – I’m sorry if you are turned off. If so, you can’t imagine how much I’m disgusted by this phenomenon, too. The point is – there are too many Norwalk residents who simply vote along party lines, regardless of the individuals, policies, or outcomes. When people vote against their own self-interest, I call that “dumb”. Voting for Harry has led to much of the fiscal mess, erosion of quality of life, and lack of leadership & transparency prevalent in city hall over his now 3 administrations. Perhaps the more acceptable term would be “uninformed”?

If you look at other states – “dumb” voters can wear both colors.

My central thesis, one I have been making on these pages for over 3 years now – is the prevalence of voters to blindly assign loyalty to a political party is a core problem, country-wide. Crips & Bloods, Red & Blue, both gangs, both bad. But like the Chinese concept of Yin & Yang, there is both good and bad within each. I believe voters would do best by voting competence and character over party affiliation. Single party rule – either side – isn’t healthy. The results speak for themselves here in Norwalk.

Piberman December 14, 2018 at 11:27 am

Reval and other City Hall problems are arising together with our $150k “Chiefs” in City Hall. Anyone see a connection ? Or maybe there’s some wisdom in demanding Prof. Search to secure Top Talent rather than City Halls long established “friendly approach” for hiring.

On the positive side Mayor Rilling recognizes we now have problems. Will he fix them ? Out of control spending suggests could be a long wait.

Mike OReilly December 14, 2018 at 5:57 pm

I went through all my mail tonight looking for my preliminary appraisal as they call it. I have not received mine. Can some one tell me how to get a copy.

Thanks

Debora Goldstein December 14, 2018 at 8:07 pm

Not sure Mr OReilly, but you can see what the city’s preliminary assessment amount is by going to
http://gis.vgsi.com/NorwalkCT/

Once there, press the blue button to enter the database and then enter the address. That will tell you the numbers.

I’d imaging you can contact the assessor’s office for a duplicate copy of your letter.

Jake December 14, 2018 at 10:51 pm

Lot’s of comments on the Norwalk reval as it pertains to residential properties. This is valuable commentary but at the end of the day the residential portion of the grand list is only up a weighted 9% from the 2013 grand list. The problem is that the commercial grand list is up 49% from 2013. Most homeowners would say this is great. But it is not. An overzealous (most people in the know would say highly unqualified) assessor has used an indefensible 4 cap valuation for mixed use and commercial properties. The problem with this is the same problem that happened 5 years ago but was not publicized. The assessor will lose the appeals filed with the State (as he lost the majority 5 years ago) and as such the grand list and tax collections will suffer/actually go down after the fact. Let me be clear. If the assessor doubled the value of a mixed use property (which he did on the majority of the properties) and he loses the tax appeals, the grand list will then go down as will the actual tax collections. This takes place after the mill rate and the grand list are set, thus causing a net reduction of tax collections even though a reval was completed.
Thus, the most important factor for the assessor during the 5 year reval is to get the valuations right and not be greedy. Unfortunately we have a greedy, know it all,> tax assessor who routinely loses tax appeals. This leads to an actual decrease in tax collections after a reval and a shortage of tax funds for Norwalk. This assessor has been incompetent for years but hides behind a union contract. Fair citizens of Norwalk, look into what I say as the truth is easy to surmise with minimal effort. We have an assessor and an assistant assessor that should be fired. Just investigate what happened to our grand list 5 years ago and you will find the trail of incompetence leads directly to the assessor and his assistant.

Dave McCarthy December 15, 2018 at 7:02 am

…and yet the house we sold is appraised at 10% less than it sold for 5 months ago. Maybe a gift for facilitating my move? More seriously, in the last reval that Mayor Moccia ran, besides the numerous neighborhood meetings and ample data, this sort of error was a ‘flaw’ that had to be addressed and minimized.

Debora Goldstein December 15, 2018 at 8:42 am

Jake,

Where is the information that shows residential properties are up by a weighted 9% overall?

Why is it okay (as one commenter posts here) for all waterfront properties to be raised by 43% but not mixed used properties?

It’s not just the assessors office who is complicit in losing tax appeals. It is counsel as well.

Wineshine December 15, 2018 at 5:14 pm

From someone who’s already had a hearing:

What was said: “My property value has gone down and my appraisal is up. The quality of life from the Walk Bridge project has been compromised.

What was heard: “Blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah.

Jake December 16, 2018 at 12:12 am

Debora-

Go to the PowerPoint from Tyler and look at the data they released to the public. The data with some simple math will get you your answers. If the math is beyond you, which I doubt, then I will provide a further beeakdown.

Jake. And all of the commercial data is available there as well. I think you are smart. Take your time and evaluate the information. If you do, you should become scared of our assessor and his lack of reality and understanding of actual property values.

Patrick Cooper December 16, 2018 at 12:32 pm

@Jake – you are correct, and apparently one of the few who see the assessment issue hiding in plain sight. You are also correct about @Debora Goldstein, who is smart and very fact-oriented. Her posts are must reading for an understanding of the structural basis for many of our issues and arguments.

Recall this article from this past February –

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2018/02/barron-attributes-norwalk-property-assessment-appeals-partially-for-5-grand-list-growth/

My guess is there are many other commercial assessment appeal losses that fall into smaller buckets, but together with these big hits cumulatively put much of the revenue onus on the residential taxpayers.

The question once again becomes – transparency, accountability, professionalism, and leadership.

Jake December 16, 2018 at 1:25 pm

Go to assessors page and under resources, click on “2018 Revaluation Public Meeting Presentation”. All the info is there, just takes a little math to make it useful. I also recommend that you go to this link: https://data.ct.gov/widgets/xtsi-wywq
and familiarize yourself with the make up of Norwalk’s grand list. The percentages are available there.

Jake December 17, 2018 at 7:23 pm

Deb-

Are you enjoying all the data?? Plenty to be gleamed from it. You should also look up the revaluations of the 20 or so apartment buildings/mixed use apartment projects in town and take a look at their new appraised values. They are all tax appeal losers. This is on the assessor, not city attorneys as you suggest. Once a tax appeal moves on to the lawsuit level, having corporation counsel there is a formality as all negotiations are with the assessor/assessors department. That is why the grand list has suffered at each of the last revaluations. The assessor has an agenda as to whom he thinks should bear the majority of the taxes but he cannot come up with real valuations that support it. This year he is going to get a huge pushback from the waterfront owners and the mixed use property owners, as well as others. He has put himself in a bad place and constantly relies on making false accusations of misconduct toward appraisers on the opposing side of the appeals. That works sometimes when a client doesn’t have so much at stake. But he is so far out of whack this time that a group has formed to spend the legal dollars to squash him and may very well end up with him being fired. This is the real story that should be pursued after you finish parsing through the information. Have fun!!

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