Pine Creek property assessments still under fire
Ten Pine Creek neighborhood residents took their protest over property assessments to old Town Hall on Tuesday.
"We think the Board of Selectmen should step up and defend what's going on for these taxpayers," said Eric Sundman, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 1 who lives on French Street. Sundman said he's paying $300 more a year in taxes than a neighbor who he said owns a larger piece of property.
The protest continues the crusade against their property assessments set in 2010 that residents of the waterfront neighborhood launched at the May 23 session of the Representative Town Meeting.
Property owners unhappy with their assessments following the townwide revaluation had two opportunities to get them adjusted -- in informal meetings with Municipal Valuation Service, the firm that conducted the revaluation, and then in formal hearings before the Board of Assessment Appeals. Anyone unhappy with the assessment after the board's hearing, however, would have to file suit in Superior Court, which many of the Pine Creek neighbors have done.
"Our taxes were about $12,600," said Pine Creek Avenue resident Christine Anderson. "Now they're just short of $23,000. That was in one year, and there were no changes to the property."
She said the Board of Assessment Appeals denied her appeal, but did lower the assessment of a neighbor's property, whose house she said is newer and more expensive.
"Next year, if we're successful (with the court appeals) there is going to be such a shortfall" in the town's budget, Anderson said.
Pine Creek Avenue resident Joan Fortuna, who owns two parcels -- one where her house stands and the other with a garage -- said she will end up paying an extra $8,000 to $10,000 in taxes because of the revaluation. "I'm already paying $21,000," she said. Fortuna said a private appraisal she commissioned came up with a home value that was $500,000 less than the town's.
Fortuna's four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home at 38 Pine Creek Ave., which is waterfront property, has an appraised value of $1.9 million and an assessed value of $1.3 million.
"And the senior tax relief in this town is a joke," Fortuna said. "They don't offer anything." Other communities, she said, freeze a homeowner's taxes once they become senior citizens but Fairfield, she said, does not.
Fortuna also owns a one-quarter interest in a two-family home on Kenwood Avenue with Robert and James Fortuna. The address for Robert and James Fortuna is also listed as 38 Pine Creek Ave. in the assessment records, and they are also recorded as owners of a condominium at 85 Forest Ave. and a two-family home at 75 Forest Ave.
There are several senior tax relief programs available in Fairfield, including a 5-year tax freeze, a tax credit or a tax-deferral program.
The Pine Creek neighbors have also questioned the hiring of Municipal Valuation Servic, headed by William Gaffney, a former employee in the Fairfield Assessor's office.
Assessor Thomas Browne Jr., who declined to comment on the individual assessments because many of them have court appeals pending, said a request for proposals for a firm to conduct the revaluation was issued and three companies, including Gaffney's, responded. Browne said he recused himself from the vote that selected the bidder because Gaffney worked with him from 1979 to 1991.
"We went through the proper channels," Browne said, and added municipal appraisers must be certified by the state Office of Policy and Management.
All municipal appraisers, he said, create models that are used to determine appraisals. It is not, Browne said, done exactly the same way that an appraisal for a mortgage refinancing is done.
"Everyone in town was treated the same way," Browne said. "It just happened that some went up and some went down."
"I love my house, but this is crazy," said Joyce Pierz. "The water is beautiful but so is Greenfield Hill, I used to live there. But they didn't go up 50 percent. Their taxes went down, by the way."