NORWALK, Conn. – Revaluations of some of Norwalk’s most valuable properties were attacked Monday night by Rowayton residents who said the work being done by a assessment company new to Norwalk did not take into account the effects of Superstorm Sandy and that inspections were not done in a thorough manner.
“Rowayton is carrying the burden of Norwalk, and it’s unfairly carrying the burden of Norwalk,” Kip Ford said, drawing applause from some of the about 50 people present at an informational hearing held in the Center for Global Studies at Brien McMahon High School.
“We had this whammy of Sandy, then the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) flood maps changed July 8, then you have the insurance change Oct. 1. Those were huge game changers,” said Mike Barbis, a real estate agent. “… I’ve had things listed in flood zones. It was amazing how sophisticated buyers were. They knew all this stuff cold. So it’s in the market.”
This was after Norwalk Finance Director Thomas Hamilton told the crowd that values in the Sixth Taxing District – Rowayton – had dropped the least among Norwalk neighborhoods. Rowayton dropped 4.9 percent in the assessment done by Vision Government Solutions Inc., while values in the Second Taxing District – South Norwalk – dropped 16 percent.
This would probably mean their tax bills will go up, even without taking into consideration a budget hike next spring, Hamilton said.
Residents offered many reasons why their assessments were unfair, unjust or just incompetent.
There have been very few sales on which to base an analysis, they said. It’s an invalid sample in statistical terms, they said.
One person said an inspector came to their house, walked in the front door, stood in the hallway, looked around and left. Two people said, “Me, too.”
“This business about making an internal inspection is hogwash. They don’t do it,” Robert Duckworth said. “… You gotta realize, this makes us very suspicious about the government. They say they are inspecting and they aren’t. So what else are we supposed to assume they are doing wrong?”
Ronald Coralian said his next door neighbor’s house had been for sale for eight to nine months at a price of $538,000. Vision had appraised it at $589,000.
One man said he had bought his house within the last year. The valuation given by Vision is 30 percent higher than what he had paid, he said.
“Well that happens,” Tax Assessor Michael Stewart said. “You’re a very shrewd negotiator or we missed something.”
Another resident asked if it was true that the revaluation did not take into account FEMA changes in elevation zones that took effect July 20. Assistant Tax Assessor Michael O’Brien said that was true, but did not agree that there was evidence that Sandy had adversely affected property values.
There is a comprehensive failure of data inclusion, one man said.
“I will agree that we don’t have the July FEMA maps and we don’t know exactly what the impact is,” Stewart said. “But the selling price of the properties that we use actually sold — some of them actually sold after the date of the FEMA release. Those sales are valid sales. To say that there are no sales that affect that is just not true.”
An unhappy Wilson Point resident had the last word, for those still there two hours after the presentation had begun.
“You should know that right now the city of Norwalk is suing me for asking for information,” Lynnelle Jones said. “I believe the city has acted inappropriately and hasn’t given the information. I believe there are inaccurate field cards out there. I think this whole process is a mess. The fact that the city is wasting their money suing me right now is insane.”
Jones filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission, seeking a copy of a real estate appraisal done on her house. The city says it doesn’t have a written appraisal, although Jones has evidence that the city paid $1,500 to have it done. The commission ruled in Jones’ favor and the city is taking both Jones and the commission to court with an appeal.
You can read about that here.
Jones handed Stewart a piece of paper with a list of legal objections and informed those listening that the tax assessor does not live in Connecticut.
“My field card is inaccurate,” she said. “I mean, this whole process is a joke. I think you should ask questions. The information we are getting we are not getting in time. Corrections haven’t been made to field cards. People have a right to ask questions.”
Stewart said, “I’ll let everybody make their own judgments and decide whether or not we are answering their questions.”