What the Assessors Do and Don’t Do

Massachusetts's law requires assessors to value all real and personal property within their community. They value every property, from single-family residences to the largest of commercial and industrial enterprises. They may perform this work with their own staff or they may hire a professional appraisal firm.

In Greenfield the Principal Assessor coordinates and oversees the valuation process, often times working with a professional appraisal consultant. An Assistant "field" Assessor is also employed to measure the exterior and inspect the interior of all properties at least once every ten years to assure that the property record data is correct. Accurate and up to date descriptions of properties are essential in determining quality assessments; both in estimating fair market value as well as making sure that every property owner is equitably assessed.

Increasingly, Assessors use computer software as a tool to maintain values and assist with the multitude of calculations required in their work. Greenfield's assessment records have been fully computerized and integrated since 1992. Currently the Assessing Department is equipped with state of the art, appraisal software licensed from Patriot Properties of Lynn, MA. This system enables the assessors to manage, store, retrieve and analyze the data much more efficiently, greatly assisting in the estimating and processing of soundly based, defensible, uniform and equitable assessments.

This computerization has proven to be very cost effective for the Town. Examples of these benefits are as follows: timely issuance of tax bills, a very thorough yet faster process of updating values and tracking building permits, and more defensible assessments resulting in a significant reduction in both abatements and subsequent Town funds needed to reimburse aggrieved taxpayers who would be granted abatements. Computer efficiency had freed office staff time to better serve the public and save the Town money. For instance, the Assessors' Administrative Assistant is now able to serve the Inspector of Buildings as well thus saving the Town the cost of hiring additional staff.

Every three years Assessors must submit these values to the state Department of Revenue for certification. Assessors must also maintain the values in the years between certifications. This is done so that each property taxpayer in the community pays his or her fair share of the cost of local government - no more or less - in proportion to the amount of money their property is worth.

Assessors also have a responsibility for the motor vehicle excise tax bills originated by the State Registry of Motor Vehicles. They edit the bills to reflect recent changes and then pass them on to the Municipal Collector for distribution. Assessors grant abatements and the assessing staff answers questions regarding excise tax bills. The Assessors' Office also performs many other duties such as: public education, defense of assessed values, addressing abatement applications and appeals, property ownership updating, maintenance of tax maps of parcel boundaries, and tracking of individuals and properties eligible for exemptions and other forms of property relief.

Assessors then, have a major role in promoting effective financial management of their communities. By keeping values at the market standard, the Assessors assist in maximizing the resources available to fund the municipal services expected by residents. Property taxes are one of the major sources of funding for the community services enjoyed by the taxpayers - schools for their children, police and fire protection, and the upkeep of municipal roads, including that special New England priority - snow-plowing.

What the Assessors Do Not Do

Assessors do not make the laws that affect property owners. Massachusetts Legislature enacts tax laws. Various guidelines and regulations to implement the legislation are established by the Department of Revenue. The Assessors, in short, follow the procedures established by others to set the value of property. Value is actually set by buyers and sellers as they establish the worth of comparable properties through their transactions in the real estate marketplace.

The Assessors also do not determine taxes. The municipality itself, through its Town Meeting, determines the level of property taxation. Similarly, the Assessors don't decide who is entitled to relief on their property tax bills through exemptions; rather they follow the state law

Appears in: Property Tax FAQs

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