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Editorial: Done correctly, property reassessment ensures fair distribution of tax burden

Homeowners in Amherst have been preparing for the worst while hoping for the best as they scan their mail for a letter from the town.

The reason: 44,000 property owners in the town are receiving their new assessments.

This event should not be met with dread. Maybe not glee, but certainly not dread.
The town is sharing the results of its 2017 Assessment Equity Project, a townwide reassessment of properties.

Large properties and small, commercial and residential, went under the microscope. It is a necessary process to make sure property owners are not overpaying or underpaying taxes. The town expects one-third of tax bills to rise, one-third to decrease and one-third to remain steady.
Because a full reassessment has not been done since 2009, some homeowners are in for a shock. Reassessments are recommended every four years.

There is nothing inherently bad about a reassessment, although it can get a bad rap if used as a smokescreen to raise the total amount of taxes collected. It is important to distinguish between taxes and assessments. Assessors are not concerned with taxes. The amount to be raised through taxes is the purview of elected representatives. Reassessment is supposed to determine the market value of property. That should allow the tax burden to be apportioned fairly.

It is when property owners think they are being gouged while others are getting off lightly that problems arise. It is up to town officials to make it clear how they arrived at their figures. Amherst homeowners are provided with instructions on how to challenge assessments deemed unfair, and the town should be prepared for a lot of customers.

Amherst’s red-hot housing market creates scenarios in which buyers sometimes pay more than what the town thinks a property is worth, especially for homes in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. Young couples starting out or empty nesters wanting to take advantage of the town’s amenities might find themselves in a bidding war, which could drive up assessments for nearby properties.

There is a bright side to a higher assessment, besides overall fairness. It means a home’s value is rising, which is a good thing.

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