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They were lined up out the door at the Boston assessor's office Monday in the wake of letters revealing the results of a townwide assessment program.

Granted, the office isn't very big. But neither is the town, with a population of 7,897 in the 2000 U.S. Census.

The assessment notices were mailed out last week, the result of the first townwide review since 1990.

The town's phone lines rendered a constant busy signal Monday as Assessor Thelma Hornberger and her staff attempted to explain how reassessment works. Mostly they were able to, she said.

"The whole idea is fairness," she said. "If a property can sell for $120,000, then that's what it should be on the roll for."

According to the revaluation, conducted for the town by TSL of Buffalo, property values in the town increased 85 percent, not including utility properties. The total increased from $267 million to $496 million.

Utility company properties increased by 31 percent, from $8.4 million to $11 million.

TSL will be paid $85,000 for the work.

Hornberger said her office faces the challenge of overcoming the misconception that the increase in property tax automatically equals an increase in taxes.

"Assessments are one part of the property tax formula, the cost of government service is another," she said.

The way assessments work, a house worth $100,000 will be assessed at $100,000 after the update. Last year, Boston's equalization rate was 63 percent, so it would only have been assessed at $63,000.

After the revaluation, the same household that paid about $200 in town taxes would still be paying about $200 in taxes, but the tax rate would be around $2 per $1,000 assessed valuation compared to the approximately $3 tax rate it had faced.

The equalization rate was projected to drop to 59 percent this year if there was no revaluation.

Boston Supervisor William Eagan said residents will have three opportunities to challenge the new assessments. They can schedule a meeting with representatives from TSL, appeal to Hornberger or appeal to the assessment board of review.

Eagan, a former town assessor, said his home's assessment went up 81 percent, but he doesn't plan to fight it because of the level of recent sales in his neighborhood.

"This is an exercise we have to go through," Eagan said. "If it doesn't fly right, the board can sit down and throw (the reval) out. But the only person who can do that work (in determining whether TLC's assessments are accurate) is Thelma and the people around her."

Eagan said the reassessment should help residents with school taxes, where towns with lower equalization rates frequently end up paying higher proportions of district taxes than they should.

Residents can call 941-6113 through April 20 to schedule appointments to discuss their assessments. The assessor's office also has published property listings and sales information for all parcels in the town; they can be reviewed in the office during business hours.


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