State's highest court affirms extra taxation on Groton Long Point

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Groton — The state Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed a lower court's decision that Groton Long Point property owners whose taxes increased by 35 percent following the 2011 revaluation are not entitled to tax relief.  

Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson wrote in the opinion published Tuesday that the "ratio testing method" used by the town to determine the tax rate was consistent with uniform standards of appraisal practice and used legally by the Town of Groton "in order to ensure that Groton Long Point bore its fair share of the town's municipal tax burden relative to the town's other neighborhoods."

 Groton Town Manager John Burt said via email Tuesday afternoon that he had not yet read the full decision.

"I'm glad the process is over and that the town was found to have followed proper standards," Burt wrote. "Our Assessor, Mary Gardner, is very knowledgeable and I had full faith that she was correct in her understanding and application of those standards."

Gardner was not available to comment.

Mike Flynn, president of the Groton Long Point Association, said by phone that the decision was "depressing" and he did not know if there would be any further court action. He said, though, that a subsequent revaluation performed in 2016 was done correctly and "leveled the playing field" with respect to Groton Long Point and other shoreline neighborhoods, including Mumford Cove, Mystic and Noank.

Groton Long Point is a community of 620 shoreline properties on Fishers Island Sound that has its own fire, police and public works services. A parking permit is required, limiting public access to its beaches. Property owners pay town taxes along with an additional assessment to fund the community services provided by the Groton Long Point Association.

When taxes increased sharply following a 2011 revaluation, association members brought a class-action lawsuit against the Town of Groton and assessor Gardner.

For its 2011 assessment, the town hired Tyler Technologies, a Plano, Texas-based vendor certified by the state to conduct mass property appraisals.

According to court documents, the company used a ratio testing method to compare assessment to sales ratios of residential properties in 13 Groton neighborhoods based on the previous two years of sales. Every neighborhood tested above 90 percent of market value except Groton Long Point, so Tyler and the town assessor revisited the neighborhood and increased the Groton Long Point assessments by 1.35 percent to bring them in line with the other neighborhoods.

Following a trial in 2016, Superior Court Judge Ingrid Moll found that the assessment had been performed properly.

The property owners appealed to the state's highest court, where seven justices unanimously affirmed the lower court decision.

Flynn, the association president, said the amount of money charged to Groton Long Point property owners between 2011 and 2016 was "exorbitant." In their class-action lawsuit, property owners, except those who had resolved their tax appeals separately, had sought reimbursement of overpaid taxes, attorney's fees and costs.

Represented by the Robinson & Cole law firm, the plaintiffs had argued, in part, that the taxation method was unfair because it did not take into account "the true and actual value" of each home in Groton Long Point.

Flynn said residents of Groton Long Point pay "a tremendous amount of money" to the town and, with mostly summer homes and middle-aged or older year-round residents, sends very few children to the town schools, which make up 70 percent of the town budget.

Attorney Eileen Duggan of the Suisman Shapiro law firm had represented the town in the lawsuit. She could not immediately be reached for comment.

k.florin@theday.com

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