Monday, November 16, 2015

Close The Barn Door

Colorful barn at 332 West Street, South Amherst front view
Side view

Even though Amherst Town Meeting approved $75,000 in Community Preservation Act funds almost two years ago for rehabilitation of the historic barn that's hard to miss on West Street (Rt. 116) in South Amherst, the barn may not survive much longer.

The town tax money was never spent and the property just changed hands at the beginning of this month.

And the barn today looks sadder than it did two years ago when the CPA committee was told the owners insurance company wanted it removed immediately because it was a liability/safety issue.

Interim Town Manager Dave Ziomek will give the Community Preservation Act Committee an update next month as town officials are trying to talk the new owner into saving the landmark.

I asked town assessor David Burgess if renovating the structure would increase the valuation of the property hence increasing the tax burden on the homeowner:

If the barn is restored then the value would probably go up and, in anticipation of your next question, no not by $75,000.  I imagine if that much money was set aside it would be to replicate what how the building was originally, i.e. historical materials, whereas assessments are based on replacement costs in today’s materials for the same use.  

The assessor was more concerned about why the property just sold for well under his current assessed value.


Anonymous said...

The assessor should be concerned. Since it just sold and his job is to accurately reflect market values, if it sold for less than the assessed value, let's make sure that we present what this means properly.

This means that the assessor was wrong when he did his assessment. His job is to accurately estimate this value. This does not mean that the property sold cheap, unless it was an arm's length transaction, then there is a small possibility, but still not a high probability. This means that many houses nearby, or of similar attributes, have also likely been assessed too high. The new homeowner will likely go for an abatement and should get it. So should many other folks that have similar properties.

The assessor's job, by accurately estimating such values, aids in properly proportioning the tax burden based on the town's desires - voting, meetings, etc. If the assessor does not accurately do this, what happens is that the tax burden unfairly falls on the wrong parties. By over assessing this property and likely others, these folks have a higher burden relative to what was decided via our other government systems.

He also cannot predict, even more so now, what the influence will be by renovating the barn. You could paint it and add 1000's to the value. The owner never has to let the assessor onto the property, so the insides may or may not influence if just a minor renovation. Many repairs can avoid permits, many small projects just go forward without asking. Now many New England barns are later converted into living space, kid's rec spaces, dad's hang out, etc. This could add a quarter million or more to the value of the property.

Now this barn, already shown to be a community asset, given that the community has a say over it, perhaps should not be taxed at all. My main point being that the blog post clearly shows that assessments in Amherst should be reviewed, especially yours, and values of property are anything but up to the assessor, his job is to try and see what the market already knows.

But if town needs $1000 and taxes are 10% to cover it. If values go down by 50%, the tax rate will double to compensate. If values go up by 100%, tax rates should go down by 50%, but that is one that is less likely to happen because those in town government generally like to make sure money flows in their direction.

Just be clear folks, that assessor does not have the right to come in your home or on your lot unless you invite them. I have called them on this, they have contacted their attorneys and confirmed. It does help if you write them a letter reminding them of the law and that they property is actually yours. They wont like it, but they have no choice and they cannot by law over tax you.

Anonymous said...

What a waste of money.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking, why not spend that $75,000 on something that improves the lives of Amherst residents instead? There's kind of a long list at the moment . . .

Anonymous said...

Beautiful building. Thanks for the shot, Larry.