Dear West Bridgewater Property Owner:
This booklet is designed to give West Bridgewater property owners a brief overview of the programs and procedures of the Assessing Department and to provide information about the public's right to appeal our assessment decisions. As the Town's elected Board of Assessors, we view this booklet as an expression of our commitment to keep property owners well informed about assessing matters. We hope it serves to reassure you that you are being treated fairly or at least that it puts you in a better position to inquire further and to express your concerns.
The Assessing Department maintains current and historical data about the Town of West Bridgewater and its properties. We encourage you to take advantage of this valuable resource not only in relation to your own property but also in regard to a variety of issues affecting our Town. The Assessing Department Office is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Wednesday from 8:00am to 7:00 pm and Friday from 8:00 to 1:00 p.m.
The Board of Assessors
ATTENTION: NEW HOMEOWNERS!
Keep in mind that it is the owner of the property as of the January 1st assessment date each year who receives the tax bill. Yet, it is usually the new property owner who has the responsibility to pay tax bills that are issued after the purchase date. Therefore, in up to the first eighteen months of ownership, new property owners are advised to contact the previous owner or the Collector's Office if the tax bill has not been forwarded to them.
1. WHAT DOES THE BOARD OF ASSESSORS DO?
As the basis for apportioning the taxes that are raised by the Town, the Board of Assessors is required by Massachusetts Law to maintain detailed records describing the real and personal property within the Town and to annually arrive at a professional estimate of its full current market value. On every third year, the methods used in arriving at these estimates of current market value, are reviewed in detail and certified by the State Department of Revenue.
In addition to assessing approximately 3,000 parcels of real property and 400 personal property accounts, the West Bridgewater Board of Assessors annually assesses 10,000 motor vehicle excise accounts.
2. WHAT THE BOARD OF ASSESSORS DOES NOT DO.
The Board of Assessors does not determine the amount of tax revenue to be raised by the Town. This is the function of the annual budget process involving the Board of Selectmen, Administrative Assistant, the Finance Committee, the various town departments, and ultimately the citizens of the Town who vote on the annual budget at the Annual Town Meeting.
The Board of Assessors does not make the laws that affect property owners.
The Board of Assessors handles no money and has nothing to do with the total amount of taxes collected. To reiterate, the responsibility of the Board of Assessors is to apportion the tax burden according to the current market value of the properties in the Town of West Bridgewater.
3. WHAT IS PROPOSITION 2½?
Proposition 2½ is a State law that places a ceiling on the total amount of taxes that a Town can raise; and it also limits the percentage by which a towns tax revenues can increase from year to year. That is, it provides Towns with annual increases in total tax revenue of 2½ percent plus additional tax revenue that can be raised because of the construction of new homes and commercial buildings (“New Growth”).
Because of the added taxing capacity that has been brought about by successive years of new construction, the total amount of tax revenue raised by the Town usually does increase by more than 2½ %. Furthermore, Proposition 2½ has no relevance as far as tax increases on individual properties are concerned; it relates only to the total amount of taxes raised by the Town. That is, a variety of real estate market factors, such as property location and new construction, can affect the annual percentage change in assessed value of individual properties. Consequently, there can be a wide variation in the percent change amounts of individual property assessments.
4. WHAT IS MEANT BY A “SPLIT TAX RATE”?
The Town of West Bridgewater has what is known as a “split tax rate”. There are two separate tax ratesone for residential properties and one for industrial and commercial property. The tax rates are set by the Board of Selectmen and NOT by the Board of Assessors.
5. HOW IS MY ASSESSMENT DETERMINED?
To arrive at “full and fair cash value” for your property, the assessors must know what “willing sellers” and “willing buyers” are doing in the marketplace. The Assessor also must collect, record and analyze a great deal of information about property and market characteristics in order to estimate the fair market value. This includes keeping current on the cost of construction in Town and any changes in zoning, financing and economic conditions that may affect property values. The Board of Assessors uses the three nationally recognized appraisal approaches to value: market, cost and income. This data is then correlated into a final value for assessment purposes.
6. DOES AN INCREASED ASSESSMENT MEAN AN INCREASE IN TAXES?
No, not necessarily. Two distinct factors combine to bring about an increase in taxes. The first is the usual modest annual increase in the amount of tax revenue raised by the Town; and the second is the effect that the real estate market has on changing each property's relative share of the Town's total assessed value. That is, when the townspeople vote for additional Town spending, most properties do experience a tax increase. For some properties, however, this tax increase is increased further because the real estate market has indicated a greater than average increase in assessment. On the other hand, properties with assessments that increased less than average will have a less than average tax increase or even a decrease in taxes.
Everything else being equal, if you were to make improvements to your existing property, for instance: add a garage or add an additional room, the assessed value and the tax would also increase.
In adjusting assessed values the Assessor does not create value. People create value by their transactions in the marketplace. As reflected in the Assessor's oath of office, the assessor has the legal and moral responsibility to study these transactions and appraise your property accordingly and in a fair an equitable manner.
In summary, tax increases result from the actions of the Town's budget producing bodies and the extent to which a particular property's percent change in assessed value differs from the average change in assessed value.
7. WHAT IF I DISAGREE WITH THE ASSESSMENT OF MY PROPERTY?
If your opinion of the value of your property differs from the assessment value, you are strongly encouraged to contact the Board of Assessors to discuss the matter. The staff will be more than ready to listen and if necessary to act to correct a problem. When questioning the assessment value, you should ask yourself three questions:
Is the property description data on my property correct (i.e. square footage, number of baths, etc.)?
Is my assessed value in line with recent sale prices on my street or in my neighborhood?
Is my assessed value in line with others on the street or in my neighborhood?
Keep in mind the property factors that are important in arriving at an assessed value: e.g. recent sale prices, quality of construction, condition, your property's neighborhood designation, building square footage and lot size. These are the most critical factors in the valuation process. There is a variety of information available at the Board of Assessors' office to help you determine whether your assessment is fair and equitable. The staff will be happy to assist you, and in most cases no appointment is necessary.
If, after discussing the matter with the staff and researching the assessments of comparable properties within your area, a difference of opinion still exists, you may appeal your assessment by filing a timely abatement application.
NOTE: THE ABATEMENT APPLICATION PERIOD ENDS ON FEBRUARY 1
In the same manner that the period during which you must pay your third quarter actual tax bill extends to February 1, the period for filing an abatement application extends to 4:00 p.m. on February 1. That is, abatement applications must be received in the Board of Assessors' office by the 4:00 p.m. close of business on February 1; or the application form must be sent to the Board of Assessors and be postmarked by February 1.
If you wish to file for an abatement, please come by the Board of Assessors' office and pick up an application as soon as you receive your Actual tax bill or download the form. When filing for abatement, remember that you are appealing your assessment and not your taxes.
You must pay your taxes pending your appeal.
The abatement application form is easy to fill out and the information you provide can be brief, but it is important to make a case to support your claim. That is, you need to provide reasons why you feel your assessment is out of line. For example, this can be done by pointing out errors in your property description; and/or by citing recent sales or other assessments which indicate your assessment is too high. In reviewing your abatement application we will consider carefully your specific concerns and comparisons.
Once the application is time-stamped by the Board of Assessors' Department, it can be added to or withdrawn.
If Your Abatement is Granted
You will receive an Abatement Certificate indicating the amount of the abatement.
To determine how much was your assessment reduced? Divide the tax abatement by
appropriate Fiscal Year tax rate.
(.01649=$16.49 per $1,000 of assessed value)
Note: Industrial and commercial abatements would be calculated the same way but with
a tax rate appropriate for such properties.
Note: The tax rate used here is for purposes of this example only.
Your abatement will normally be credited toward your fourth quarter tax bill. If your
abatement is granted after your fourth quarter tax bill is paid, you will automatically
receive a refund check.
If Your Abatement is Denied
You will receive a notice indicating your application was denied.
You may appeal to the State Appellate Tax Board (ATB) within 90 days of the Assessor's decision.
8. WHAT PROGRAMS DOES THE TOWN OF WEST BRIDGEWATER OFFER TO REDUCE TAXES?
A variety of programs (“exemptions”) to reduce property taxes are available under Massachusetts Law for certain qualifying taxpayers. These include elderly persons, blind persons, disabled veterans, a surviving spouse or orphaned minor child, a widow or orphaned minor of police officer or fire fighter, and individuals with extreme medical and financial hardship. Exemptions are distinguished from abatements in that exemptions refer to the condition of a person while abatements refer to an incorrect assessment of a property.
The qualifying date is July 1, the first day of the fiscal year. When the third quarter actual tax bill is sent to taxpayers in late December, applications are due within 90 days of the postmark date.
Because of the number and complexity of exemptions, the following table is intended only to give you a general idea of what is available. If you have the slightest feeling that you may be eligible or have any questions, call the Board of Assessors' office to discuss details! Note that certain income limits include deductions (Clause 41C) and asset limits do not include the value of owner occupied condominiums, and 1,2,3 family houses. Certain exemption applications will require a copy of the tax forms filed in the last calendar year, or a statement indicating that the applicant(s) does not file tax forms. The number of owners of the property also falls into the review of qualification, which may mean non-eligibility of the exemption, a pro-rated exemption, or a full exemption.
Also, in certain conditions, if two or more persons, whether or not related or married, own a single parcel and each qualifies for a different exemption, each would be entitled to receive the exemption for which he or she qualifies.
An additional qualification for most exemptions is the ownership and occupancy of the property. In most cases, the applicant must have owned and occupied real estate property in Massachusetts for five years (and owned and occupied the present property on July 1 in the year of application), and Massachusetts must have been the applicants place of domicile for the preceding ten years.
ATTENTION: OWNERS OF PROPERTY IN TRUST!
Trust ownership arrangements may affect qualification for a statutory exemption. As a general rule, an applicant must be a trustee and a beneficiary and submit:
1. A copy of a recorded trust instrument, including amendments;
2. A copy of the schedule of beneficiaries.
Consult your attorney if these requirements affect you!