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Oxford foresees three years of abatements
OXFORD — Computer problems that caused hundreds of property owners to receive erroneous valuations last year have been largely addressed, though dozens of affected residents are still coming forward and receiving abatements this year.
Town Manager Michael Chammings says that the computer system, which was used to record data for a town-wide revaluation, left office staff scrambling to correct piles of paperwork.
"We believed that the systems were going to be more compatible with our current system," said Chammings. "When we transferred the information some of the data got lost."
The property valuations that the system generated ignored most exemptions and property sales, leading to big headaches for staff.
According to Town Clerk Ellen Morrison, the exemption problem was discovered with no time to spare.
"This came to my attention three days before we were going to commit taxes," said Morrison. "It had the potential to be a lot worse."
As it was, many people received bills for homes that they no longer owned, while others received bills that failed to reflect an exemption, such as the Homestead Exemption or the Veteran's Exemption.
Morrison and Donna Hays, Oxford's assessing agent, were able to manually correct the majority of the incorrect assessments, but some slipped through the cracks.
"The fact that I don't have thousands is a good thing to me," said Morrison. "I couldn't or didn't correct every one."
The town did not send notices to residents about the issue.
"Nothing in particular was done, because basically I was going under the impression that I had caught all of them, and so it was limited," said Morrison. It was only afterwards that it became clear that, in some cases, the incorrect people were being billed.
"The incorrect name, we didn't know that until bills started coming back," said Morrison.
Morrison says that, in most cases, a homeowner will instantly realize that their tax bill is incorrect.
"Most of the people know exactly what should and shouldn't be on their bill," she said. "To have the Homestead Exemption, you have to be a resident. They're pretty on top of what they anticipate their bill to be, because their mil rate was the same as it was the year before."
While the vast majority of the property revaluations have been set right, the aftershocks are still being felt through a heightened number of tax abatements.
The town has issued about a dozen abatements over the last month, and Morrison estimates that she has seen "around 32" for the year. Residents are required to apply for an abatement within 185 days of the date of commitment which, this year, was done on September 3.
Compared to last year, 32 abatements are a dream come true.
"Last year, to give you an idea...I'll have two to three pieces of paper for each abatement," said Morrison. "...For last year, as a result of the reval, I have three or four, four-inch binders full of the paperwork. That's how much came in. It was amazing."
A total of 2,096 property valuations were sent out.
"[The] second year is still considered a cleanup year after a reval," she said. "From what I've been told, it usually takes about three years to work out all the bugs from a reval."
Morrison says that she expects the number of abatements to come back into line next year.
"I am hoping that we're back to a minimum amount of abatements," she said. "There's always going to be a few, but a few should be under 12. I would expect everything to be cleaned up."
Morrison says that she'll be happy to see the number of abatements shrink again next year.
"You just don't want to see any of that, because basically, it's an error somewhere," she said. "...Any way you look at it, an abatement is caused by an error. And nobody likes to make errors."
The last town-wide property revaluation was performed in 1989. There is no set schedule for the next one, which Morrison says is a good thing, given the amount of work this one caused her.
"I don't want to see a reval ever again," she laughed.