Donna Demirai, Assessment Bureau
Why did the Bureau of Local Assessment want to equalize the number of communities being certified in a given year? And how could it be accomplished? To begin with, all 351 communities have their real and personal property certified once every three years by the Bureau of Local Assessment (BLA). As it stood there were 135 communities in cycle one, 128 in cycle two and only 88 in the third cycle.
Over the years the number of communities certified in each cycle has evolved, but not in a predetermined orderly way so that it would result in an even and coherent distribution of communities; it just happened. Initially, in the early eighties, some communities had their values certified for the first time after protests and procrastinations, thereby leaving us with a lopsided three-year certification cycle. Through the years certification changed from a two-year cycle to the current three-year cycle. Some communities received postponements for a year due to unusual and unforeseen circumstances while others accelerated to get into another cycle for reasons of their own.
As part of the recently passed Municipal Relief Bill, BLA sought legislative authorization to reallocate certification years for a variety of reasons. If we group cities and towns thoughtfully and cohesively we can (1) encourage regionalization of services and/or data sharing. That is particularly important in small communities with budgetary constraints that preclude them from hiring any or an insufficient number of in-house professional appraisal staff or external vendors. Also, (2) vendors are likely to be more attracted to underserved regions of the state if several contiguous communities need services. Distributing the workload evenly over a three-year period will (3) allow BLA staff and vendors to pay more attention to communities unlike the hectic fiscal year 2010 with 135 certification communities vying for service, many at the same time. Evenly distributing (4) large cities throughout the three-year cycle and within each of our three regional offices will prevent an overload of these often challenging, complex and time-consuming communities in any one cycle or regional office. In the end, the goal is to (5) achieve full and fair cash value for taxpayers and (6) facilitate timely tax rate setting.
The BLA has long held the position that a community must have their property certified once every three years in order to have a classified tax rate (split rate). Therefore, we could not postpone any of the approximately one-third of communities that locally elect to shift an additional amount of tax levy to the commercial, industrial and personal property taxpayers. Accordingly, BLA, with the support of the Massachusetts Association of Assessing Officials, sought legislation that would give BLA the authority to move some of those communities so that a rational statewide certification plan could be developed.
The BLA staff spent a couple of months working on a reallocation plan that would make sense for communities, for vendors that work for communities and for BLA. We will describe the considerations and principles employed to come up with the new three-year cycle schedule. Additionally, we will demonstrate how this reallocation will be implemented over the next six years ending in FY2016.
Simply dividing the 351 municipalities into three equal cycles was never a consideration. Developing a plan to logically group municipalities to the greatest extent possible was the goal. A committee of BLA staff first collected data from our appraisal staff in Boston, Worcester and Springfield looking for certain shared similarities before we devised a new three-year cycle. Listed below are some of the shared factors we considered:
- regional school districts,
- power plants,
- community traits such as being in the same real estate market and/or being predominately rural, agricultural, industrial, etc.,
- revaluation contractors,
- computer assisted mass appraisal systems,
- contiguous geography or traits such as seashore, mountains, etc. and,
- municipal taxing districts.
Before the committee, under the leadership of Donna Demirai, could begin the slicing and dicing process they were given principles that they had to employ as follows:
- communities would not be asked to be certified earlier than currently scheduled because we do not wish them to incur additional costs,
- communities would not be postponed more than one year to maintain the integrity of the certification process for taxpayers and
- communities would be kept in their original certification cycle as much as possible to minimize changes.
Postponing certain communities will begin for fiscal 2011. At that time 34 fiscal year 2011 communities will be postponed to FY2012. In FY2012 we will have the additional 34 municipalities and postpone 21 of the original FY2012 certification communities to FY2013. That type of progression continues and is demonstrated in the table below.
Fiscal year 2014 is the first year that will reach the targeted annual number of 117 communities awaiting certification. The process is complete in FY2016.
Moved into Next Cycle
Added from Previous Cycle
Communities wishing to see how the new certification schedule will be phased in from FY11 through FY2016 and to see whether their community will be postponed a year should consult Table 1 .
In the end we have a new certification map that will make communities more able to work with each other, their vendors and BLA. In total, of the 351 cities and towns, 208 remained in their original cycles and 143 will be postponed one year. The puzzle came together despite all the variables because everyone involved was motivated to make it work because they trust that, in the end, all parties will benefit from the new certification reallocation design.
Note: A few communities requested to remain in FY2011 certification year because the legislative approval was at the end of the fiscal year and they had already prepared for their certification review. These few communities will nonetheless keep to the new certification schedule in future years, see Table 1 .
The authors thank the Certification Reallocation Committee members, Sandra Bruso, Scott Santangelo and Stephen Sullivan.