Groton Long Point residents lose class-action tax appeal

Groton — A Superior Court judge who listened to evidence in a class-action lawsuit brought by residents of Groton Long Point has ruled that tax increases levied by the town after a 2011 revaluation were not excessive.

Hartford Judge Ingrid L. Moll presided over a trial in the case in October 2016, reviewed post-trial briefs from attorneys for both sides and wrote in a July 5 decision  that the formula the town used to assess the properties was valid and that the tax on approximately 600 properties in Groton Long Point reflects their fair market value and was not "manifestly excessive."

The residents had sought reimbursement of the taxes they felt were illegally levied along with interests, costs and attorneys' fees. The judge's decision will save the town about $4 million, according to Town Attorney Matthew E. Auger.

The plaintiffs have until July 25 to appeal Judge Moll's decision. Their attorney, John F.X. Peloso Jr. of the Robinson & Cole law firm, said it was his firm's policy not to comment on pending litigation. Participants in the lawsuit also declined to comment when reached by phone Friday.

Ten plaintiffs had originally filed the lawsuit following a mandatory revaluation conducted in 2011. In 2013, Judge Henry S. Cohn granted class-action status allowing more than 600 property owners in the subdivision to be part of the case unless they opted out or filed an individual appeal.

The plaintiffs alleged that the average yearly tax increase from improper assessment was $1,129 per property, or $5,645 over five years, according to court documents. Properties are taxed based on 70 percent of their fair-market value. They claimed the town inflated property values, then arbitrarily added 35 percent to buildings in Groton Long Point while not applying the increase to the town's 12 other neighborhoods.  

"The Town's primary goal in any revaluation is to approximate as close as possible the fair market value for each piece of property," Auger wrote in an email. "This is important because if all property is valued at or as close as possible to fair market value, then all property owners will pay their fair share of taxes.  The purpose is to equalize the tax burden amongst all property owners."

Auger said that during the course of the 2011 revaluation, the Town determined that the preliminary values for Groton Long Point were well below the range of reasonable values compared to comparable sales for Groton Long Point and the tax ratios for the other Groton neighborhoods.  

"It would have been unfair to all other Groton real property owners had the Town not changed the GLP preliminary values," Auger said. "The Town analyzed the GLP property values, made authorized adjustments, and arrived at values that still placed GLP property owners in the lower half of the 13 neighborhoods for property assessment to sales ratio."

He said the town is pleased that Judge Moll listened carefully to the presentation of evidence by both sides, understood the law and reached an equitable result. 

"Her decision denying GLP's class action claims resulted in a tax cost savings to the Town of over $4,000,000, including GLP's claims for interest, costs and attorney's fees," Auger wrote. "As a Groton resident and attorney for the Town, I am pleased the court reached a result that treats all Groton property owners equally and fairly.  That is the Town's goal in each revaluation and it was finally achieved for 2011."

k.florin@theday.com

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