Worcester, MA (October 4, 2011) - The City of Worcester is in the midst of reviewing all properties in the City as part of a Department of Revenue (DOR)-required triennial revaluation. State law requires that a comprehensive review of all properties in the City be assessed annually and recertified by the DOR every three (3) years.
An important element of a revaluation is the data collection and analysis phase, in which City and independent assessors inspect, verify, review and record specific features of the land and the buildings that contribute to a property’s value. Size, type, quality of construction, condition, number of floors/levels, number of bedrooms, baths, fireplaces, type of heating system are just some examples of the type of data that are collected. All of this data is compiled in a uniform, consistent manner in accordance with DOR-approved guidelines. These guidelines are outlined in a formalized manual that is given to each assessor to ensure accuracy and consistency in data collection and entry.
To date, we have accomplished the property review and inspection phase in accordance with DOR-approved guidelines in several ways: 1.) we used state-of-the-art technology, in which photographs of the City’s 48,000 real estate parcels were uploaded to generate a clear, three-sided image for assessors to review and gather property data; 2.) we conducted field reviews, in which both City and independent assessors performed physical inspections of residential and commercial properties (primarily for new construction/additions, at a property owner’s request, or when virtual reviews did not provide enough of a sight line for assessors); 3.) at the recommendation of DOR, we then conducted a data quality and reliability study, in which an independent firm field sampled data from those inspected properties to compare against what had been entered into our system (these results were then reported back to DOR); and 4.) we hired a project manager to assist the Assessor with the various, complex tasks associated with a revaluation. This is by far the most comprehensive review of the City’s 48,000 parcels in almost 30 years.
The primary methodology—the use of technology—in lieu of a standard door-to-door, full-field inspection was requested by the City given the reduction in the City’s workforce over the last three years as a result of dramatic State Aid cuts. The DOR permitted this request early in the process.
After recent discussion and further review of the data quality study with DOR, it was determined it would be critical for the City to take the property review and inspection one step further to ensure the utmost accuracy of the data. As a result, we intend to conduct a "full field review" of all residential and commercial properties through contracted professional services for review of quality and consistency in the data that has been entered into the new assessment system. A full field review requires that the contractor’s review appraisers conduct a drive-by exterior inspection, checking for the types of characteristics mentioned above (size, type, quality of construction, condition, etc.), and if warranted, conduct a physical, on-site inspection. We will provide this thorough last review of property data and subsequent determination of values to DOR for their review and analysis to receive their preliminary certification of our valuations.
This undertaking will adjust our timeline significantly. It will require that we issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a contracted firm to conduct the full field review. The RFP was issued on September 21st. It is our intent to award the contract by October 13th.
Based on this detailed scope and the diversity of properties in the City, it is anticipated that this work will take between two (2) and four (4) months. Residential properties will be reviewed first. Once the entire review and analysis is complete and DOR grants preliminary certification, we will embark on a public disclosure process. This process is anticipated to begin in January/February 2012, versus the original plan to mail residents values in November 2011. The extended timeline means that property owners will receive an estimated third quarter tax bill in January 2012; additionally, the tax classification hearings will not occur until the completion of the public disclosure period and prior to the fourth quarter billing (March 2012). The impact of sending residents an estimated bill in the third quarter is that any adjustment to a taxpayer's bill to reflect the FY 2012 assessment, the final budget and the FY 2012 tax rate set by City Council will be deferred to the fourth and final quarter bill.
Similar to what we have stated in the past, the public disclosure period will include a series of public sessions for taxpayers to ask questions about their property valuations. This information will be communicated to residents and taxpayers via mail, via the City’s website and via other mediums. We will work diligently to notify and communicate property owners about the public disclosure process. We intend to set-up processes that are most convenient for the taxpayer, including extended office hours, neighborhood-based public sessions, a Customer Service Center telephone line and more.