The Role and Responsibilities of the Tax Assessor

 

A Tax Assessor’s primarily responsibility is to find the Fair Market Value of all real and personal property within the municipality.  This is done as of January 1 of each year.  Valuation in Massachusetts is based on “full and fair cash” value, which is the amount a willing buyer and willing seller would pay for the property on the open market.  Assessors are required to submit the assessed values to the Department of Revenue, Division of Local Assessment every three years for certification.  This is commonly known as a Triennial Revaluation.   In the interim years between certification, the Assessors must also maintain the values and adjust if required.  
 
By keeping pace with the real estate market on an annual basis, taxpayers will see the valuation of their property as current as possible, and not only after a three year time period.  This is done so that the taxpayer pays only his fair share of the tax burden of the cost to maintain their local government.   Property taxes are one of the main sources of funding for community services, such as schools, police and fire protection, and the upkeep of the roads.  The reason that values should reflect “full and fair cash” value is so that the property tax levy is fairly distributed.  
 
Finding the “full and fair cash” value or “market value” of a property involves discovering what similar properties are selling for, what the property would cost to replace today, and what financial factors are affecting investors in the current economy.  An Assessor reviews sales, cost tables and income and expense information every year.   The percentage change in each property owner’s assessed value will differ according to location, structural style, property size, etc.   Other factors which cause an increase in valuation include structural changes (new additions, adding a garage) upgrading amenities (kitchen, bathroom) certain neighborhood or location factors, as well as market factors (supply and demand).  
 
In a revaluation there is not a uniform increase or decrease factor, because each property is affected differently by the factors indicated.  
 
It is important to understand that the Assessor does not create value.  Rather, the Assessor has the legal responsibility to discover and reflect changes that are occurring in the marketplace.  
 
Also, please be aware that not all classes of real estate appreciate at the same rate and the commercial and industrial property represent a different aspect of the market and are analyzed separately.  There are typically fewer sales of commercial property to analyze, and the value will often be derived from other valuation approaches such as the Income Approach and the Cost Approach.  The Income Approach analyzes rents, vacancy, expenses and capitalization rates to arrive at a value based upon the anticipated rate of return of an investment.  The Sales Comparison Approach is the most reliable in the valuing of residential property when there are sufficient sales to analyze.  The Cost Approach can be the most reliable when the property is new construction or unique.  
 
Assessors also have the responsibility for administrating the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax.  The valuation originates at the Registry of Motor Vehicle and is considered a local tax for each community.  In the administration of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, the Assessor’s Office does grant abatements and can answer any questions you may have.
 
Another function of the Tax Assessor is to administer the Personal Tax Exemptions that are available for certain qualifying tax payers.  Elderly Person, Blind Persons, Disabled Veterans, Surviving Spouses, Orphaned or Minor Children of a Police Officer or Firefighter killed in the line of duty.  
 
In addition the Tax Assessor administers certain Statutory Exemptions.  M.G.L., Chapter 59, Section 5 provides for Statutory Exemptions for property used for charitable, benevolent, educational, literary, and scientific or temperance purposes.  It also provides exemption for property occupied by or for the benefit of religious organizations , houses of worship and parsonages.  M.G.L. Chapter 61, 61A & 61B allows Assessors to classify property as either Forest Land, Agricultural Land or Horticultural Land, which provides for a discounted credit for the time that the property is classified and used for such purposes.  
 
What a Tax Assessor DOES NOT do.
 
The Tax Assessor does not raise or lower taxes.  Tax Assessors don't make the laws which govern local taxation and have nothing to do with the total amount of taxes collected.  The Tax Assessor does set the tax rate each year with all of the taxing agencies after having created a budget needed to provide municipal services.  The tax rate is simply the rate which will provide for those services.  
 
What are the Taxpayers Responsibilities?
 
If your opinion of the value of your property differs from the assessed value, you can appeal your assessment.  You must collect pertinent data to support your opinion.
 
Please remember you are appealing your assessment, not your taxes.  You must pay your taxes pending your appeal.