March 24, 2014
By: Richard P. James
If you own property assessed by a town, your next school tax bill won’t arrive until September. However, you should take action now to reduce 2014 property tax liability.
Remember: Assessments and Tax Bills are on Different Schedules
A tax assessment is the annual estimate of a property’s fair market value. Town assessors fix tentative assessments on May 1st of each year. If a tentative assessment is not contested, it automatically becomes a final assessment on July 1. The final assessment is used to determine school taxes (billed in September), as well as town/county taxes (billed in January).
Meet with Your Town Assessor Before May 1st
Look at your last tax bill. If you think your assessment was too high, meet with your town assessor as soon as possible, preferably by mid-April. This way, your assessor will have time to review and correct your assessment prior to May 1st when the tentative assessment roll is filed.
Prepare for Your Meeting with the Assessor
When you meet with your assessor bring information indicating a lower assessment is warranted, such as recent appraisals, proof of the recent sales price of your property, sales prices of comparable properties, and photos of any value depressing features, such as physical damage.
Be Polite when Meeting with the Assessor
Provide your assessor with copies of your information and, most importantly, be polite. Losing your temper is a poor strategy. As most assessors make no decisions at informal meetings, do not be discouraged if you leave the meeting without confirmation your assessment will be reduced.
After the Meeting with Your Assessor
If you receive written notice your assessment was reduced by the assessor—congratulations! However, if your assessment was not reduced to your satisfaction, beginning May 1st you may file a complaint challenging the tentative assessment.
Your complaint must be filed with the town between May 1st and the fourth Tuesday in May. If you fail to challenge the tentative assessment it will automatically become the final assessment on July 1, when the final assessment roll is filed, and you will be barred from challenging the assessment until next year.
If you challenged the tentative assessment and it was reduced—congratulations! However, if the tentative assessment was not reduced, beginning July 1st, you may challenge the final assessment by filing a Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR) or a tax certiorari proceeding.
As the review of a final assessment raises numerous legal issues, including very short statute of limitations periods (no more than 30 days from the filing/publication of the final roll), limits on properties which qualify for SCAR, limitations on SCAR relief, and costs, please consult an attorney during the first week in July regarding any final assessment challenge.