Assessments climb for neighborhood following reval

Residents of Chatfield Farms in Beacon Falls are facing steep tax increases next year after the assessments on their properties jumped last year after a property revaluation. –LARAINE WESCHLER/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

BEACON FALLS — When most properties went down in value last year, one neighborhood saw its assessments soar.

Residents of Chatfield Farms, a community for people 55 and older, are now facing tax increases in the thousands of dollars.

By state statute, towns must take stock of the values of their properties every five years.

During the last full physical revaluation in 2011, the then-developer of Chatfield Farms, Whyndham Homes, was in bankruptcy. Roads and detention ponds were incomplete and sidewalks hadn’t been built. The homeowners association was managing a partially finished construction site, there was litigation by trade contractors and bank loans precluded anyone from being able to sell their homes, current developer Matthew Gilchrist said.

“It was a mess,” Town Clerk Leonard Greene said.

The revaluation reflected the fact that homes couldn’t be sold or were being sold at a lower value, Gilchrist said.

The town almost pulled a bond on the 140-acre housing development off Skokorat Street in 2012 to finish the work. The development had $36,000 in liens against the property from engineering inspection fees.

After the initial 79 homes were built, there was no construction from 2010 to 2013 when EG Home purchased the development.

In 2013, developers Gilchrist and David Earp started building again. About 125 homes are now occupied and the site has been approved for 233 units. The luxury retirement homes now have an average sales price of $425,000, Gilchrist said.

A home at 7 Dogwood Lane sold for $430,000 in 2015, but the town only appraised it at $326,000. This year, the appraisal jumped to $407,000. Properties are assessed at 70 percent of their appraised value. The difference means the homeowners’ taxes will go from $7,520 to $10,239 at the proposed tax rate of 35.9 mills, a year-over-year increase of $2,719.

While Chatfield Farms has been booming, the recession has caught up to the rest of the town.

Foreclosures and short sales are up, Greene said, flooding the market with low-priced two and three-bedroom single family homes and bringing values down. Green said banks are finally cracking down on property owners who haven’t paid their mortgages in over five years. Last year, the town saw 55 foreclosures, up from 36 in 2015.

“I think it’s finally reflecting the true realities of the marketplace,” Greene said.

There’s not a whole lot that can be done to ease the burden for residents of Chatfield Farms, First Selectman Christopher Bielik said.

The effects of the revaluation can be phased in over several years, Bielik said, but that would require a town vote. The problem with that, Bielik said, is that it would raise the tax rate for everyone else in town.

“I’m skeptical that there would be broad support for that,” Bielik said.

Gilchrist supported the idea of phasing in the new assessments 25 percent at a time over the next four years to lessen the shock.

Chatfield Farms resident Ted Goodman said he wants more information on how the revaluation company was picked, what its methodology was and what its findings were.

He said he feels the process didn’t follow state statute and Chatfield Farms was judged differently than other properties in town. He said there was no rhyme or reason to the assessment increases.

“I’m going to turn every rock over that I have to find out how this mess came about,” Goodman said.

Gilchrist said higher taxes will slow sales, especially for buyers over 55, many of whom are on fixed incomes.

He said there might be some flaws in the assessments.

“If I was in a leadership position and I saw that result, I definitely would’ve questioned it and looked hard at what might have happened there,” Gilchrist said. “It’s an unfortunate situation, but at some point, it is what it is.”

Town Assessor June Chadderton said the town put out a request for proposals for a company to conduct the new appraisal in 2015 and only one applied — Appraisal Resource Group, the same company which did the town’s appraisal in 2011.

Because 2016’s revaluation didn’t require a full physical inspection, she said the new appraisals were based on sales. She said there was no different criteria for Chatfield Farms.

Chadderton said she has requested information on methodology from the company.

Property owners received notices of the new values in January, Chadderton said. The deadline to appeal appraisals was in March.