Darien grand list growth fourth lowest in nearly 60 years

Photo via Flickr.com user IRS EIN

Despite a modest increase in the value of properties in Darien, last year’s grand list evaluations saw the fourth lowest increase since 1955, according to data from the town assessor’s office. It was also the lowest increase since 2001, and almost half as high as last year’s increase.

The 2012 assessed grand list — which reflects 70% of the total appraised values of all real estate, motor vehicles and personal property — was $8,997,682,710, and is a 0.39% increase over last year, barring any potential changes through assessment appeals, which must be filed before February 20, 2013.

The last time the grand list increased by a lower percentage was in 2001, when it hiked up 0.11%, which was the lowest increase over the past five decades. Tony Homicki, town assessor, remained optimistic, despite the relatively slow growth.

The main reason for the overall $36 million increase, Homicki said, “was due to a combination of both residential and commercial improvements that have occurred” throughout town, noting his office inspected 430 parcels that had “physical changes or had a turnover of commercial tenants.” This was 20 fewer than inspected last year.

Real estate value grew by $36.4 million this year, which is about $10 million less than last year’s growth, totaling $8,469,906,100 for 2012.

The number of vehicles in town fell by 61, losing a total of $4.7 million in value, and leaving the average vehicle valued at $12,892, which is $218 less than the average car value last year. Total vehicles assessments came in at $228,336,768.

Homicki said this trend mirrors what’s happening in the region.

“This has been a typical statewide average,” Homicki said. “The purchase price of a vehicle is a little lower, and the used car market — while it’s not flooded — there are plenty of cars readily available.”

The assessor said he does not believe people are registering vehicles in other states to save on the car tax. He also noted that as cars age, they lose value, and since the federal Cash for Clunkers program expired, new car sales have somewhat tempered. Last year the town gained 58 vehicles, leaving 2012 with three fewer cars than 2010. Cars gained in value last year by $16.4 million.

The most expensive cars in town tell an interesting tale when compared to last year’s list. Last year, the top seven cars were all valued higher than this year’s top car, a Ferrari 599 GTB, valued at $112,000. Last year’s top model, a Ferrari 599 GTO, was valued at more than double this year’s top car.

Homicki said that he and his colleagues have deduced that many exotic car owners are getting rid of their rides in favor or more fuel efficient vehicles. A local car expert, who preferred to remain anonymous to avoid conflict with his peers, told The Darien Times that the assessor’s office could be “missing something.”

“There’s a lot more valuable cars out there than that” in Darien, he said. “I don’t know if you can even get a Ferrari for that little money.”

The top Ferrari was at the No. 2 spot last year, valued at $188,220, but fell in value by over 68% this year. Another Ferarri, a 612 SCAGL, dropped in value by 32% to $98,000. Only two cars from last year’s top 10 are in this year’s top 10, the other eight having either moved with the owners, sold or totaled, or perhaps, according to the car expert, registered in another state.

Valuing cars can be a time consuming and arduous task, Homicki said, and sometimes the initial assessed value given to a car might be too high, and in later years the value drops considerably to closer reflect its actual value.

“That’s why we have the Board of Appeals,” Homicki told The Times. “We do have enough support staff to satisfy the overall demand on the grand list, but it is labor intensive,” and given that vehicles reflect less than 10% of the tax base, spending too much time on these assessments might not be cost effective.

Personal property assessments increased by $2.7 million, totaling $163,002,182. Last year it went up by $3.9 million. The assessor’s office manages more than 1,100 business files, compared to about 1,000 last year. Connecticut Light & Power remains the largest taxpayer in town, with assessed personal property values exceeding $86 million. CL&P’s property increased in value by less than half a percent.

Other major businesses in town actually saw a drop in personal property value. Whole Foods properties decreased in value by more than $336,000, or 10.8%, falling to $2.8 million, and the Noroton Heights Stop & Shop lost $112,821 in assessed value, or 7%, leaving it at $1.5 million. Aquarion Water Company’s personal property fell in value by 21% to $6.2 million.

Connecticut requires businesses to self-report personal property, and when considerable changes in value occur from year-to-year, the assessor’s office has cause to take a further look, Homicki said.

Whole Foods, Stop & Shop and Aquarion are “on my list to give a further look,” the assessor said.

Yankee Gas’s personal property assessment remained flat at $3,654,070. Joining the top 10 personal property holders in town is Robert Sweeney, owner of the 40 Wakemore Street property, where the Kensett subdivision is located.

The top real estate owner in town remains Wee Burn Country Club, whose property on Hollow Tree Ridge Road is valued at more than $36.5 million, although its value remained the same as last year. Darien Financing came in at No. 2, with property also on Hollow Tree Ridge Road, valued at more than $36 million. This property was also valued the same as last year.

The Country Club of Darien also saw no increase in its real estate value, staying at over $32 million. Woodway saw the value of its property actually decrease by about $2 million, dropping to more than $22 million.

Last year, the Board of Selectmen cut Ox Ridge Hunt Club and Woodway’s tax assessments by $10 million, and became retroactive to 2008. In 2011, the board agreed to lower Wee Burn and the Country Club of Darien’s assessments by a combined $25 million in return for them agreeing to retain open space and offer the town first rights to buy club property should it be for sale. These assessments, however, were also retroactive to 2008.

Over four years, these clubs have saved or will save tax payments on $140 million worth of assessed real estate value, money that would have gone to town coffers. The average assessed value of a Darien home is $882,000, according to Karl Kilduff, town administrator, meaning the real estate taxes saved by the clubs equals the annual tax paid by more than 158 homes, or about 40 homes over four years.

The 2008 revaluation fell around that fall’s Wall Street and real estate crashes, causing many property owners in town to contend their properties were over-valued by the re-assessments by the time they were released months later.

The grand list represents a revenue stream for the town and schools, which are in the process of setting their 2013-14 budgets, which are usually finalized by the Representative Town Meeting in May and go into effect on July 1.

The next major re-evaluation is currently in process, and takes place every five years.

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