Assessors Investigating Undertaxed Property

The Marion Board of Assessors will be investigating a number of Approval Not Required (ANR) filings of prior years to determine if some properties in town are being undertaxed on underassessed land.

Discussion during the July 25 meeting focused mainly on multiple town maps of various properties which appear to have ANR filings; however, noted on them is the statement: “The purpose and intent of this plan is to provide for tax purposes only.”

“As a result, we’ve combined lots,” said Assessor George T.J. Walker. “However, these aren’t ANRs.”

Somehow lot lines of certain lots deemed “buildable” were not apparent on the tax maps and still appeared as only one parcel. “They can use them as buildable lots … but for some reason haven’t been paying their fair tax on them,” Walker pointed out.

In one example, two lots seemingly approved though an ANR remained on the tax maps as one lot. As Walker explained it, “They’ve got a note on it that says the only reason [they are] preparing this ANR is to show the assessors what we own, so it isn’t a true ANR.”

“So, what should we be doing about this?” Board of Assessors Chairman Bradford Eames asked.

“We should be taxing the two lots,” Walker responded. “We combined it because we received an ANR, but …”

Assessor Patricia DeCosta, appearing perplexed, said, “Well, that would certainly be [during] my time, so I did it. …

“They probably did this so they could get an abatement – and they did,” said DeCosta.

According to Eames, one of the properties reviewed that day should have been assessed at “almost double” the value prior to combining.

“Basically double,” Eames said again looking over the maps. “The land value would basically be double.”

And there are likely many more such properties in town with some dating back over a decade.

DeCosta, looking over the information, wondered how the Planning Board during that time would have accepted and signed such ANR applications. Walker suggested that during the ten years he was on the Planning Board, none of the ANRs the assessors were looking at that day would have been signed.

“To be fair and equal to everyone, we have to [investigate] all of them,” said DeCosta.

Eames wondered how the assessors would identify all outstanding ANR plans such as these, and the board agreed that it would need to meet with the Planning Board to make sense of what was now before them.

“I’m sure that these were done for tax purposes,” said DeCosta. She presumed that the property owners were told they had to remove lot lines because they were told the lots were not buildable lots. “But you have to remove the lot line to get the abatement.”

According to DeCosta, town counsel once advised her not to act on such abatements without a plan. “We assumed this was a plan,” said DeCosta. “I’m not even sure if it’s not. I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “I need to think about this.”

“I think we’re going to have to take – I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Eames said. “I don’t know how many there are and we told these people … that if they remove the lot lines – This is not an appropriate ANR – That language … It assures us that lot was created and has to meet new zoning as of that date.”

Walker suggested the board find out just how many of these are out there, “Whether it’s two or 22 because it could be.”

Eames reassured DeCosta that she was right, that this was likely what the property owner was told they could do, saying, “This is what town counsel told us to do, whether it’s a technicality that they didn’t put an ANR on. … The ANR said divided property and it’s done.”

Eames said the plans looked more like “a hybrid that doesn’t lock anyone in.”

“I’d be interested in seeing the Planning Board minutes as well,” said DeCosta, to see what exactly the Planning Board was signing off on.

And as the Board of Assessors gears up for its next reassessment period, “If we’re going to clean this up then this is the time,” said Walker.

“I have the feeling there’s going to be a lot more,” Eames said.

“I’m sure the taxpayer thought this was a legal plan,” DeCosta assumed. “I’m totally stumped on this – I don’t know.”

The next meeting of the Board of Assessors is scheduled for August 8 at 3:00 pm in the Assessors’ Office at the Marion Town House.

Marion Board of Assessors

By Jean Perry


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