Assessors Look at Fiscal Year 2016 Values
Property values are adjusted every year. By state law, the Assessors use actual sales in a given period to set the market value of each property, based on the property's characteristics including the size and location of the lot as well as building features such as style, size, age, and condition. The values are set once a year for the entire fiscal year (FY). The entire process is overseen and supervised for all 351 cities and towns by the state government, through the Bureau of Local Assessment (BLA) in the Commonwealth's Department of Revenue (DOR). For fiscal year 2016 the BLA and DOR directs the town, in accordance with state law, to use Calendar 2014 sales and use a January 1, 2015 assessment date.
Sales are culled to only include true market (arms length) sales. These sales, referred to as qualified sales, are then statistically analyzed in order to determine the relative importance of various factors on the actual market price paid. The BLA and DOR requires that assessments town-wide be within 10% of 100% of market value. This means that the resulting model that will be applied to all properties must demonstrate that it calculates the assessed value of sold properties to within 90% to 110% of the actual sales price.
The Assessors utilize a computer-aided mass appraisal (CAMA) system that meets the BLA and DOR requirements. The CAMA model does not, nor are the Assessors able to, manipulate values on specific parcels to promote local policies, such as favoring or impeding tear downs and development, protecting open space, encouraging agricultural use, or giving a break to low-income households. As much as the Board members individually, who are all residents themselves, might support certain land policies or assessment practices, they are prohibited from calculating assessments in any way other than that defined by law. The model simply reflects the value of the parcel as indicated by the market.
A town does not have the option to ignore land value or discount taxes for those with small houses or long roots in town. The BLA and DOR closely monitors the model to insure that it is operating according to its regulations, and has been doing so with increasing aggressiveness in recent years. If there are not enough sales in the appropriate year relevant to the assessment year, then the sample may be expanded to include an additional year's sales. All property valuation information is public record, and the Assessors strive to have a transparent system and an informed citizenry. Regardless of what the assessments are, the Assessors do not set the tax rate.
Town Meeting determines the Town's budget, and the tax rate is calculated by dividing the total budget (less state reimbursements and other local receipts) by the Town's total value. Even if there were no changes in the budget and other receipts from one year to the next, if the values decreased, the tax rate would increase.