Grand list sees minimal change

By Lawrence B. Cook, Journal Inquirer
February 01, 2001

Dips 2.88%

MANCHESTER -- As expected, the town's new grand list of taxable property has declined slightly since the list used in the last property revaluation in 1990, but officials say the impact on next year's property taxes remains unknown.

The new grand list, released Wednesday and still pending appeals and corrections, puts the value of all taxable real estate, motor vehicles, and personal property in town at $2.75 billion.

That is a decline of 2.88 percent, or $81.8 million, since the last property revaluation in 1990.

Director of Assessment and Collections Joan Oros today declared the drop "very minimal" and "a minor blip" when compared to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when real-estate speculation drove property prices through the roof.

Real-estate values in town have declined an average of 5.26 percent over the past decade, with residential and industrial property values declining approximately 12.8 and 6.6 percent respectively, while commercial property values increased an average 15.6 percent.

The value of an average motor vehicle in town has increased 5.4 percent since 1990, while personal-property values -- computers, machinery, desks, and the like -- have increased an average 15.8 percent over the same time period.

Town Finance Director Alan Desmarais said today that he could not estimate what impact that 2.88 percent shrinkage would have on local property tax revenues, which make up about 60 percent of the town's revenue stream.

Desmarais said residents can generally expect that if their real estate assessments dropped, their property tax bills will decline next year as well.

In November, Desmarais calculated that if real-estate values dropped by 1.91 percent and state grants, town budgets, and tax collection rates all stayed the same, the tax rate -- not including fire district taxes-- would increase from 24.79 to 25.17 mills, a hike of .38 mills.

Under that scenario, the median residential property owner would actually pay about $326 less in taxes because the value of their home had declined more than the tax hike required to bring in the necessary budget revenue.

On the other hand, commercial property owners who saw their real-estate values increase would pay more property taxes under that scenario.

Desmarais and directors Timothy H. Becker and Joseph Hachey today agreed that the next year's tax rate will increase when the Board of Directors sets it in May.

"The mill rate will change,'' Desmarais said. "Where it goes and how much is the question.''

Hachey declared the grand list "better news than we expected,'' and "almost too good to be true,'' and predicted taxes would barely change for the average homeowner.

But Becker said he will withhold any conclusions regarding the grand list's slight decline until all possible assessment appeals -- especially those from large taxpayers like JC Penney, the Avalon apartments, Connecticut Light and Power, Wal-Mart, and others -- have been decided.

Becker said he fears that significant changes in those assessments could lead to a more drastic drop in the grand list and adversely affect property tax revenues.

As evidence, he cited the recent change in the Buckland Hills Mall value, which dropped 26 percent, or $26 million, when the owners complained.

"Do we really think they're going to roll over and play dead and not appeal?'' Becker asked regarding the town's larger businesses. "We really have to wait until the other shoe drops before we get excited about this grand list."