Link to Telegram article: Transparent process is hailed.
The Day of Reckoning is nearing for Worcester property owners.
During the next month or so, the city will notify all 48,000 property owners via mail of their new property assessments. And while there is angst in some quarters about what the new valuations will be, the groundwork has been laid to give the public every opportunity to ask questions and receive information about them.
The City Council Municipal Operations Committee held two meetings in recent weeks to take up several issues raised by members of the group Accurate Worcester Assessments on Real Estate about the revaluation process.
Among the things AWARE was seeking included: better transparency in the Assessing Division; adjustments to the land rate tables to reflect fair market value within all neighborhoods; a well publicized public disclosure process with public hearings held throughout the city; and an auxiliary site outside of City Hall available for convenient access to the Assessing Division during the public disclosure process and abatement period.
The group also wants property owners to be notified and provided with data sheets for their property; the Assessing Division to provide the reason for denying a real estate abatement application and include an explanation in the denial notice; and finally, it wants “consistent, fair and accurate real estate assessments” for all classification of properties.
For the most part, the folks at AWARE got what they were looking for.
Working with the city administration, the Municipal Operations Committee has been able to address each of those issues. Councilor-at-Large Michael J. Germain, committee chairman, said the groundwork is now in place for a most transparent and open process.
“The role of this committee is to make sure this (revaluation) process is as transparent as possible and continues to be as transparent as possible moving forward,” Mr. Germain said last week. “We look at ourselves as being a voice for the people, and we have let the administration know what we expect. We want the people involved in this process held accountable.
“We also want to give people the opportunity to ask the questions they want to ask,” he added. “People will be treated fairly, honestly and with respect. We can’t fight the (valuation) numbers, but those numbers will have to be backed up.”
Thomas F. Zidelis, the city’s chief financial officer, said the complicated and arduous revaluation process is finally approaching the finish line — though more than a year behind its original deadline.
He said the independent field review of residential and commercial properties is completed, and the state Department of Revenue has begun its field audit of randomly selected parcels to verify the data.
He said the DOR’s “mini-audit” amounts to a triple check of the revaluation data elements. If all checks out with DOR, and he firmly believes the city’s number are within DOR standards, then the public disclosure process will begin in late February/early March, when property owners will be notified of their new property assessments.
That will also trigger a series of public hearings in at least five areas of the city so property owners can have the opportunity to ask questions about their new assessments. In addition, two study rooms in the Worcester Public Library will serve as satellite offices for the Assessing Division (after 5 p.m.) during the public disclosure period.
Mr. Zidelis said each property owner will also be notified of the percentage change in the assessments between this year and last.
“This process will be fully transparent,” Mr. Zidelis said. “We will go to the nth degree to ensure transparency during the public disclosure process and the abatement period. The city manager has made it clear that we are to spare no expense to achieve that and to get as much information out to the public as we can.”
Mr. Germain said he is encouraged by what he has heard from the city administration and praised City Manager Michael V. O’Brien for the actions he has taken. He said he is confident the public will be treated fairly in the process.
He added that members of AWARE, led by Joan Crowell, deserve a tremendous amount of credit for that. He said the group’s persistent efforts to shine a bright light on the city’s revaluation process the past several months forced the issue on to the Municipal Operations Committee and the entire City Council.
Those efforts helped make the revaluation process more equitable and shaped the public disclosure process in such a way that will encourage greater public participation.
“Property owners should not unknowingly pay more than their fair share in taxes,” Ms. Crowell said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Germain said he and his committee colleagues, working with AWARE, have tried to facilitate a process that everyone can totally trust, a process that is transparent, fair and equitable.
“I think we’re getting in that direction,” he said. “There is going to potentially be some heartache when these numbers come out, but it looks like people will have every opportunity to question the (revaluation) process and question how their numbers came about.
“At the end of the day, I want to be able to look someone in the eye when they come to me with a question and be able to say that this process was fair, that this process was in the open, that this process was public and that the numbers speak for themselves,” he added.