John Lucarelli An honest discourse on spending
To the editor,
Many in town were outraged at Town Assessor Lauren Elliot’s presumptuous comments (April 25 news story, “Assessor’s Department to check every property in Greenwich”) the office needs to “check every property in Greenwich” and “verify the information we have and see if anything has been done that we did not give a permit for.” These statements unfairly make it sound like the town’s citizens are rampantly breaking zoning and building codes while rebuking the tireless and exemplary work of Jodi Couture’s Zoning Enforcement Team.
Instead of duplicating the work of Zoning Enforcement, we hope the assessor will spend more time following the town charter mandate of properly assessing our property inventory.
Our government needs to realize actual real estate declines over the past decade. The Grand List incorrectly includes a plus-60 percent increase during the 2005 revaluation followed by a token correction of 12 percent in 2009 that was offset by an even greater 18 percent mill rate increase in the same year.
Today’s Grand List is $33.1 billion with a General Fund Budget (not including Nathanial Witherell, Harris Golf Course, and other costs) of $443.5 million which appears to be around our historical average tax rate of 1.3 percent across all properties.
However, taking a closer look, many local real estate experts believe we are trading at 2004 or earlier values which puts our Grand List back below the $20.4 billion level. Applying our current General Obligation Budget of $443.5 million to the 2004 Grand List values gives us an average tax rate of 2.2 percent. So if local experts are correct we have lost more than 40 percent of our real estate values from the 2008 highs on average and at the same time effectively doubled spending relative to our property values.
Using inflated valuations for our properties have allowed elected officials to claim they are maintaining “steady and predictable” tax increases. Accurate valuations of our real estate values will show our taxes have gone up dramatically even as our properties values have fallen.
With reality property pricing, the town will finally be able to hold a truly honest debate on how much our government spends every year as a proportion of actual property values while allowing property owners to properly benchmark spending relative to other competitive towns in the region. The more we delay this truth the more Greenwich real estate prices will continue to slip away.
John Lucarelli is president of the Greenwich Property Owners Association.