At least half of Fairfield's residential property owners should see at least a slight decrease in their next tax bills under the recently completed townwide revaluation.

Town officials outlined the new property values, which dropped as expected -- a reflection of the general downturn in the real estate market over the last two years -- during a press conference last Friday.

The assessments are equal to 70 percent of a property's market value and, with the just completed revaluation, the gross residential assessments now total $9,186,530,920, a drop of $1,099,506,692 from the 2009 grand list.

But First Selectman Kenneth Flatto cautioned that taxpayers shouldn't expect the drop in the assessment for their property to equal what their decrease may be. "If the last time [the assessment] was $500,000 and this time it's $400,000, it does not mean that your taxes are going to drop 20 percent," Flatto said. They also need to "wait this process out and see the final mill rate," he said. The new tax rate, which will be set based on the new property values, will be determined following the adoption of the municipal budget for 2011-12 in the spring.

About 50 percent of the town's property owners will see "some improvement" -- or lower payments -- in their taxes, Flatto said, while 25 percent will have a "negligible" change, and the remaining 25 percent will see an "adverse impact" -- or higher taxes.

Notices of the new assessments were mailed Thursday, Assessor Thomas Browne said.

The revaluation, required by state statute, was conducted by Municipal Valuation Services of Fairfield. "They're relatively new but we also felt by having a local company, they had a better handle on the market," Browne said.

All taxpayers received a mailer that listed the current information on the property, and asked to notify the firm of any changes or errors. They also could request an in-person inspection, Browne said. In addition, properties that had been sold were chosen by the town to have inspections. In all, 13,000 properties were inspected, Browne said.

"Ideally, it's great if we could inspect all of them," he said, "but more and more people absolutely don't want anybody on their property."

Browne said commercial properties in town for the most part held their value. "We don't have the high level of vacancies as some of the other Fairfield County towns," he said. And residential properties near the water saw values hold, Browne said. "Waterfront areas, by and large no matter where you go, remain coveted," he said.

If the town's operating budget were to remain the same, Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller said, the tax rate would increase from 19.27 mills to about 21.2 mills. "It's a guidepost," Hiller said, though, and not an absolute. How much needs to be generated by the town's tax dollars won't be known until after the budget process for 2011-12 is completed.

"Obviously, one of the big questions people will have is `What does this do to my taxes?' "

Flatto is one of the town's property owners who saw his assessment for his Orchard Hill Lane home drop 14.14 percent from $444,430 to $380,310. The decrease in assessed value was even larger for Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Flynn. The assessment on Flynn's Coral Drive home dropped 20 percent from $438,970 to $355,040.

Even General Electric, the town's largest taxpayers, saw its real estate assessment drop 21.5 percent from $84,700,000 to $66,559,850. Businesses, however, also pay personal property taxes for furnishings and equipment.

Anyone who feels their assessment is in error can contact Municipal Valuation Services to schedule an informal meeting with the firm's representatives. Those still not satisfied after that can have a more formal hearing before the Board of Assessment Appeals. Those hearings will take place in March. But town officials said anyone disputing their assessment needs to bring concrete evidence -- simply saying their taxes or assessment are too high is not considered evidence.

Bill Gaffney, president of Municipal Valuation Services, said property owners can make an appointment by calling toll-free at 855-686-4825 or make an appointment online at www.munival.com/fairfield. "We strongly suggest if you have any questions, make an appointment," he said. The phone number is strictly for making appointments, Gaffney said.

The town's website, www.fairfieldct.org, also provides information on the revaluation process.