Prominent Norwich property owners challenge tax assessments in court

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Norwich — Two dozen Norwich property owners representing some of the largest and most prominent apartment complexes, shopping plazas and office buildings throughout the city have filed suit in state Superior Court challenging their property assessments in the 2018 revaluation and the city’s denial of their appeals, many without a hearing.

In the 24 separate lawsuits filed in different Superior Court locations in the state, all complaints give the same wording, calling the 2018 revaluation of their properties “grossly excessive, disproportionate and unlawful.” All the owners said they had filed the proper appeals to the city’s Board of Assessment Appeals, and all were denied, including 13 whose appeals for reduction of their assessments were denied with notes from the Board of Assessment Appeals stating that it “would NOT conduct a hearing.”

Properties involved in the appeals include portions of the Ponemah Mill complex in Taftville, although not the largest building undergoing a major renovation into apartments. One building there had a property assessment increase of $68,000. Another building’s assessment more than doubled, from $552,400 to $1,135,700, the complaint stated. The commercial building at 3 North Second Ave., owned by the mill developers, saw its assessment jump from $309,400 to $463,400.

The assessed value on which the tax rate is applied is 70 percent of the total appraised value for each property.

Other properties involved in the court challenges include the Mercantile Exchange office building on Main Street, owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe; three parcels of the Norwich portion of the former Hospital property; large apartment complexes in the center city and Thamesville; buildings in the Norwich business park and three shopping centers on West Main Street.

The owner of eight lots in a residential subdivision on Farm View Drive also challenged values placed on those properties.

The city conducted a state-mandated full revaluation of property values in 2018, and the resulting grand list of taxable properties showed an overall increase of 6.88 percent for combined real estate, personal property and motor vehicle properties. Commercial real estate values rose by 17.2 percent, while overall real estate went up by 8.57 percent.

At Monday's City Council meeting, Rachael Franco, business manager for Norwich Family Dental Associates LLC at 17-25 Lafayette St., said the owners did not file a court challenge to their assessment this year, because they expected the tax rate to go down significantly with such a large increase in commercial property values. She said the assessed value of the property at 17-25 Lafayette St. jumped by 57.64 percent, and the assessed value of an adjacent building at 18 Oneco St. increased by 28.78 percent.

The city budget approved by the City Council in June had only a 0.4 mill drop in the tax rate. Franco said neighbors owning other office buildings in the vicinity also “had a hard time reconciling” the increases.

“I do not believe the commercial property in Norwich has increased 57.64 percent since the last revaluation,” Franco told the City Council, “and if so, I’d like the evidence to justify.”

Norwich Assessor Donna Ralston was not available for comment Friday. She sent a written response to Franco describing the revaluation process, the consultation process by the revaluation consultant with business owners and the appeal process.

Ralston wrote that valuation workers review the three years prior to a revaluation to collect income and expense information generated by commercial properties. The information is compiled to reach the value assigned to properties.

“All indications were that the rental information used for the last revaluation was too low, which is one of the reasons why most of the commercial properties went up in value,” Ralston wrote to Franco.

Mayor Peter Nystrom said he is aware of concerns and complaints expressed by commercial property owners in Norwich. He said that is one reason why the Republican-controlled City Council has fought to reduce city spending and cut the tax rate.

Nystrom said he has asked Ralston to hold a public workshop to explain to residents and commercial property owners the state revaluation mandates and the process for conducting revaluations, as well as to explain the appeal process.

The issue of commercial assessment increases arose at Tuesday’s meeting of the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce this week, also attended by Nystrom. Chamber board Chairwoman Nancy Cowser said the sharp increases are of concern at a time when Norwich’s economy is turning around and economic development is increasing.

Cowser said the chamber’s Economic Development Committee will address the issue of Norwich commercial property assessments at its meeting in early August and will check with surrounding member towns to see if they are experiencing similar impacts.

c.bessette@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the names of Rachael Franco and the business for which she works. It also clarifies why the owners did not file a court challenge to their assessment this year.

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