Assessors now require all changes be made in writing, not word-of-mouth

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TOWNSEND — At their Tuesday night meeting, the Board of Assessors discussed changes made to their process for handling information.

The discussion came in the wake of erroneous information appearing on a property card for a parcel of land on Edward Road, which is owned by Gary Shepherd. The error surfaced while Shepherd was donating the land to Habitat for Humanity.

The half-acre property was changed from “unbuildable” to “buildable” in March 2005, causing the assessed value of the land to leap from $9,100 to $84,100. Three people working in the assessor’s office — Vikki Tidman, Anne Stevens and Janet Leavitt — are the only ones trained to use the computer software.

Tidman corrected the mistake and the property returned to unbuildable status and the assessed value dropped to $12,500.

Assessor Laura Shiffrin said the mistake was nothing more than human error.

”We have 4,000 lots in town,” Shiffrin said. “Mistakes are made. Every year we get less and less people coming in with errors on their tax bills.”

Jean Dinon, whose home abuts the Edward Road lot in questioin, expressed concern over any errors made in the assessor’s office.

”If this one error was made, how many others are out there?” Dinon asked. “As a taxpayer, I am very concerned.”

Tidman said from this point forward, no changes to any lot cards can be made verbally.

”Memos have gone out to all staff and to Richard Hanks, our zoning officer,” Tidman said. “All changes have to be in writing. That was done immediately after the error was found.”

Shiffrin said the only person who suffered due to the mistake was Shepherd himself.

”Gary had to pay the taxes on the higher assessment due to our error,” she pointed out. “He never filed an abatement, so we cannot go back now and fix that. He is the one that this mistake cost the most.”

Dinon said she has offered to purchase the land once again from Shepherd, so that no building can take place on that lot.

Shiffrin said the lot, although declared unbuildable, can be donated to Habitat and they might be able to get around zoning bylaws to construct an affordable house.

She explained that affordable housing is needed in Townsend, and Habitat will build a strong, non-palatial house on that lot.

Shiffrin assured the public that the assessors do the best job they can, and keep the mistakes to a minimum.

”I am not saying we are perfect,” she said, “but we have come a long way in taking care of making less and less mistakes.”