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Civics Sunday: An Interview with Board of Assessors Chair Mary Greendale

by The Publishers
August 11, 2019

Our readers requested an “up close and personal” look at the operations of Elected Boards and Committees.  Readers wanted to know not only what each entity does, but also how each makes decisions. The set of six questions created for our interviewees has been asked of each of the Chairs.

 

Our readers requested an “up close and personal” look at the operations of Elected Boards and Committees.  Readers wanted to know not only what each entity does, but also how each makes decisions. The set of six questions created for our interviewees has been asked of each of the Chairs. 

Today we present Mary Greendale, Chair of the Board of Assessors.  Ms. Greendale, a 53-year resident of Holliston, is in her 3rd year on this Board, and presently serves as its Chair.  Additionally, Greendale served on the Board of Selectmen (one term in the ‘80’s, another in the ‘90’s), the Zoning By-Laws Committee, the Town Hall Renovation Committee, various appointed offices, and presently serves as the President of HCAT, Holliston’s cable access station, where she hosts the show, “Just Thinking.”

To quickly review the role of the Board, “Assessors determine or estimate property value for the purpose of taxation.  Their best skill and judgment must be used to make an assessment.  They must be impartial and accurate in their assessment, never over- or under-valuing.” Civics Sunday Part VI - The Board of Assessors

Questions

 

1.      How does the Board of Assessors develop its agenda for each meeting?

Ms. Greendale began our interview by stating that most of what is done by the Board of Assessors as well as when it is done determined by a timeline governed by MA General laws.  “All requires a certain piece of paper, certain numbers, and there is no latitude,” said Greendale.  The manual for the assessors is 3” thick. All who serve on the Board must complete a course at UMASS to learn this tome. 

Greendale said, “We do have a full time assessor, Kathy Peirce, who is responsible for putting together a standard agenda:  what’s going on in the office, where we are with statistical gathering, abatements, etc.  Kelly Schorr is our assistant.” 

At this point in our interview, Greendale wanted to help residents to get on the same page in our understanding of terms that are commonplace for assessors, but less so for most residents. 

The assessment of a person’s house determines the amount that property owner is taxed. 

Staff inspects properties to determine the assessed price.   “Our goal is to be as fair and consistent across town as possible.” 

Items that determine a home’s assessed value are its age, the location of the property, the property size, and the condition of the structure.  “Condition gets to how a house was built,” explains Greendale.  Not all houses are built equally; some have withstood the test of time, but some builders may have used substandard quality materials or cut corners.   

Ms Greendale continued: ”If you have a house valued higher than you think it should be and similar houses are going for less than that,” a person might ask for abatement. 

Abatement is a request by the homeowner for a reduction or decrease in the assessed property value. Each assessor must treat all tax abatement applicants fairly.  If an applicant makes a written request, an opportunity will be given to make his or her case in person to the Board of Assessors.

Exemptions are very different from abatements.  Exemptions may lower a person’s property tax because of the owner’s situation: a veteran, blindness, a particular income status or other special relief circumstance.

Additionally, Greendale explained that there are other ways to defer taxes for those who are elderly, handicapped, infirm, or living by themselves.  The state has developed several programs that the town may enact to assist these folks.   

Greendale emphasized that there are ways for those in real need to get some tax relief.  The first step is to call or go to the Assessor’s Office and talk to the staff.  You may also contact the other members of the Board of Assessors, Peter Barbieri and Lesley Kennally. (Thanks for the correction Mary.)

 

2.      How does the Board of Assessors make informed decisions that are the best for our community?  Please tell us of one recent decision made by the Board of Assessors as an example.

Ms Greendale explained that recently someone asked for abatement, which caused the Board of Assessors to consider a property. 

The home was a “high end” property in price, but there was a discrepancy between this individual’s property and other comparable properties.  The discrepancy appeared to be in the condition of the home. 

The condition “gets to how it was built,” said Greendale.  “When it was built, it was in really good condition, not just average…We have not fully resolved it, and now it is necessary to go in and examine the property.” 

When an inconsistency appears within a neighborhood, “it doesn’t mean the assessment will change.”  Greendale believes, “It is to a residents’ advantage to have assessors see the house.  They can’t make assumptions about a house if they can’t get in.”     

 

3.      How does the Board of Assessors interact with other boards and committees on a recurring basis?  Do you have any views concerning the frequency of these interactions?

Ms. Greendale responded that there are two other town boards / committees the Assessor interact with; the Select Board and the Finance committee.

Each year, the Assessors hold a classification hearing with the Select Board to set the residential and commercial tax rate.  Currently the rates are the same.  About 14% of the tax base is from businesses.  If that percentage were much higher it might suggest a split rate.  Another consideration at the classification hearing is that many of the businesses are owned by Holliston residential taxpayers.

Greendale explained how the Board of Assessors interacts with the Finance Committee.  While the Board makes decisions about market values and abatements, etc., there is a professional staff that operates the Assessor’s Office at the Town Hall.  Like all other town departments, the budget request is reviewed by the Finance Committee prior to the Annual Town Meeting.

She went on to share that the Board frequently interacts with the Town Treasurer and the Town Building Official as part of their work.  The Planning Board may contact the Board with questions.

Occasionally the Assessors will reach out to the Council on Aging to update seniors about available tax relief.

 

4.      How do you see the Board of Assessors being more effective for our community?

At several points in our interview with Ms. Greendale the misperception of the Assessors as the ‘bad guys’ came up.  To that end Greendale is an advocate for the Assessors reaching out to the community to make everyone aware of how taxes are determined, how Abatements and Exemptions are requested / approved (we hope this interview will go a long way to this outreach.)

Greendale stated that, “if you have ANY question about individual taxes and / or financial relief, please contact the Assessor’s office.”

The Assessor’s website includes the most current assessments for all properties.  This might be a good place to begin an inquiry.

As mentioned earlier, most of what the Assessors do is strictly guided by State Law.  The Board can make some policy changes.  Thanks to some recent input shared by residents, the policy for when assessors can inspect a home was changed to be sure that an adult is at home any time an assessment is done.

 

5.      What are the best ways for residents to provide input to the Board of Assessors?

Ms. Greendale freely shared her personal email, mmgreendale@gmail.com, for citizens’ direct connection to the Board of Assessors.  She also shared that while not the most direct route, she sometimes notices tax related comments on Facebook to which she’ll provide a useful response.

At this point, she reiterated that the best way to get the correct tax-related information for a citizen’s individual situation is to go directly to the Assessor’s Office: 

Kathryn Peirce, M.A.A.                    MAA Principal Assessor                     508-429-0604

Kelly Schorr M.A.A.                          Assistant Assessor                              

Sharlene Harris                                 Principal Clerk                                     

Chris Beaudry                                    Principal Clerk

More than once, Greendale complimented the Principal Assessor, Kathryn Peirce, for her vast experience and accuracy – often being called upon by Assessors in other towns for guidance.  Her guidance for the Board of Assessors has put the Town in good stead when Appeals are filed.

 

6.       Currently, what is the main priority for our town?  (In general, not necessarily related to the Board of Assessors.)

“Planning how to maintain this community while on a fixed [tax] income,” is Greendale’s priority. 

“Holliston is running out of land,” she continued. “We are close to being built out.  The closer you get, there will be no growth from new homes…The tax base becomes stuck, but costs still go up.  We still have teachers to pay, roadway repairs to make.”  Greendale sees this happening in 5 to 10 years unless there is a construction dip. 

What will offset this?  Greendale thinks multiple-use housing is a possibility.  It utilizes the same amount of land, but increases the number of units that may be built.  This process would seem to maximize what we’ve got. 

Satisfied that we had received the best information for our readers about Holliston’s Board of Assessors, we chatted on a more personal note and bid good-bye to Mary Greendale.  Her desire to communicate the Board’s accessibility to residents as well as her efforts to educate residents about possible opportunities or options was crystal clear.  We encourage everyone not to be reticent if you have a question or concern.

 

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Comments (1)

Thanks Yvette and Chris - I think this was the hardest interview I have ever had to do, because the information is so complex. I should have been clearer that we are focused on the market values of the houses/buildings - how much the property would sell for. These values translate to the assessments for each property. This year the tax rate is $18.83 per $1,000 of assessments. And one correction, Peter Barbieri and Lesley Kennally serve as members of the Board of Assessors, not staff. Thank you for listing the staff in the article with contact info. I hope people contact the department or elected Assessors with their concerns and questions.

- Mary Greendale | 8/11/19 9:37 AM

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