By Harry Kane
All homeowners know that when they improve their property, the assessment almost always goes up, and then their taxes go up, too. New construction or rehabbing an existing home is a common way to grow your property’s value. But until recently, the statistics which correspond to individual homes have been erased, according to Josiah Lee Auspitz, a concerned resident in Somerville.
Auspitz, a long-time resident of Chapel Street who has been active in local issues, has been trying to get the City of Somerville to listen to his ideas regarding the collection of data.
“If they’d had these numbers on new growth,” he says, “they would have known before they started planning the [Davis Square] hotel in the spot they planned it, that all around that proposed hotel there was a lot of rehabbing, which resulted in a single family homes changing hands at $1.3 million apiece, which was unheard of in Somerville. They could expect that people who put in a million bucks for a house were going to be very concerned about sticking a hotel in that spot, even if they might favor a hotel. But they didn’t have those numbers.”
Auspitz says the problem with the old system is that the data for individual homes is not kept. Instead, only citywide averages are retained for public record. The city has to report this by law to the State Department of Revenue every year because the valuation plus the new growth is what they use to determine state aid. “This is sort of a base figure that the city does produce, but it doesn’t really analyze,” he added.
Apparently, until recently, after the assessors report the growth numbers – the aggregate numbers or the city-wide numbers – to the state department of revenue, they then overwrite the records in each individual property, so that properties which have had the new growth are indistinguishable from the ones that have had limited to no new growth, according to Auspitz. “They say that is a software protocol. I can’t see any reason for erasing data of this sort that’s been collected at public expense,” he said.
Over the last ten years it’s been the yield on new growth that has saved the city during a difficult period of cutbacks in state aid, Auspitz explained.
“There’s no way of tracking whether a thoroughly professional job has been done in accessing new growth and getting a tax yield out of it,” he said. “I’m hoping that in the future, at least, they will find a way of preserving these records by specific properties.”
These numbers are also useful for the city’s business planning, as a promotional device to attract new kinds of investment into the city.
Auspitz is for intelligent business development, and thinks this assessment data would help in savvy planning for the future.