Assessor Tom Browne stepping down, sees less taxing future
Updated 8:35 am, Saturday, September 17, 2011
For someone who at first worked as a pharmacy manager, Fairfield Assessor Thomas Browne Jr. later got the prescription for career longevity just right -- working for the town through six different administrations, six different police chiefs, three fire chiefs and five town clerks, the latest town clerk being his wife, Betsy Browne.
But after a little more than 37 years in the town's employ, Browne, 66, is ready to put away his calculator and plans to retire at the end of the month.
"It's been a long road," Browne said during an interview with the Fairfield Citizen this week.
His career in public service begin in 1974 as an assistant assessor. He was named deputy assessor in 1976 and appointed the assessor in January 1984.
"After I got out of the service, I was managing a pharmacy," he said, but it was going to be sold to a chain and so Browne moved on, this time to the sales department of a freight company. "I was selling freight; we dealt primarily with utilizing flatbed trains, mostly picking up brass."
The brass industry in New England, though, was dying. "My mother was an administrative assistant to (former town fiscal officer) John Leahy," Browne recalled. "She heard about this job opening."
Browne applied, although he now admits that he really had "no idea" what the Assessor's office did. He started out, he said, setting values for motor vehicles and personal property. "They were looking for a business or accounting degree" and Browne had a degree in business management from Sacred Heart University.
"After three interviews, I was hired," he said, and he's been in that office ever since. His final promotion to the top job, though, nonetheless was a bit of a surprise. When then-Assessor Thomas Fitzgerald retired in 1983, "it was assumed I probably would be the next assessor, though no one in the administration asked me."
It was the third week in December and Browne was on his way to a basketball game when he got a call from a reporter, congratulating him. The reporter had just come from a Board of Selectmen meeting where the three-member panel had voted to name him the new assessor.
Along the way, Browne had started taking appraisal classes at the University of Connecticut -- the longest-running school for assessors in the nation -- and became a certified appraiser. He took a two-week course in Chicago in assessing and appraisal administration and, in 1983, became one of the instructors at the UConn school.
"I stayed in it," Browne said. "I kind of liked it after a while. Initially, I was doing a lot of the inspections and measuring."
Back then, there were no computerized program to aid in collecting the tax-valuation data and everything was entered by hand on paper field cards, including the sketches of a property. All the assessor staff had, he said, "was a clunk calculator."
"So the industry has really changed," Browne said. "I've been fascinated where we've come since that time."
What hasn't changed, he said, are the formulas that are used for determining a property's value for taxation purposes.
But he can't explain why state laws have changed from requiring property revaluations from every 10 years to every four years and then to every five years.
"I really don't know," Browne said. "I've never been able to get an answer."
During his years in the Assessor's office, Browne was named Connecticut Assessor of the Year in 1994; has served as president of the Connecticut Assessors Association, the Fairfield County Assessors Association and the New England Regional Assessors Association. He's received awards for teaching, serving as past president of the state group and a distinguished service award from the state group as well.
A longtime Fairfield resident -- his parents moved here from Bridgeport because property at that time was cheaper -- Browne plans on taking time off immediately after his retirement. "I like to play golf when I can, but in the last couple of years it's been tough because of my back, and then I broke my shoulder," he said, "so now I'll get to play a little more."
Though he expects he'll do some consulting work in the future, the Red Sox fan said he also has a "binder full of chores" at home that need attending to first.
His wife, the top official for maintaining Fairfield's public records, will no doubt be able to help update that list.