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Tax relief possible for local homes 'destroyed' by Sandy

Updated 5:08 pm, Tuesday, November 27, 2012
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Westport residents whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy will be eligible for reduced real-estate tax assessments to account for the damage.

Homes wrecked badly enough during the storm to require total reconstruction will be eligible for residential assessments prorated from Oct. 1, the start of the current assessment year, to Oct. 30, the date when Sandy "concluded," according to town officials. Within that framework, the owner of a decimated home would not be taxed on the assessed value of his or her house for the remaining 11 months of the current assessment year.

"This was a very severe storm that impacted the town and homeowners," said Paul Friia, Westport's assessor. "We think what we are offering can be very beneficial and we encourage affected homeowners to come forward and contact us."

For residents to receive a reduced assessment, homes damaged beyond repair by Sandy must be demolished, all of the building's materials must be removed from the property, and the property must be properly graded after the demolition to the satisfaction of a town building inspector.

If a property owner is not able to complete the required tasks within 120 days of Sandy striking the town, state statutes give Friia the authority to reduce a building's assessment from the date that the required demolition, removal and grading are completed.

The prorated assessments will only affect the assessed value of residential buildings; the land on which those homes stand will still be assessed for a full year.

Homes in Westport are assessed at 70 percent of their appraised value, in accordance with state law.

Residents whose homes were seriously damaged, but salvageable -- for instance, their first floor was ruined, but the house did not have to be razed -- will not be eligible for prorated assessments, Friia said.

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, advocated for a case-by-case system to determine whether homes with repairable damage should be re-assessed.

"That seems more prudent than just saying wholesale anybody affected by the storm should be re-assessed," he said. "I would imagine that with the vast majority of those properties, the owners intend to restore them to their previous condition. That might bring about some positive changes like storm protection steps and maybe raising the height of the ground floor and putting in better pumps and maybe putting in windows that can withstand greater force and better roofs. If anything, you would think that would enhance the value of those homes."

If a homeowner rebuilds his or her destroyed home before the start of the next assessment cycle on Oct. 1, 2013, an assessment for the new structure would be factored into later tax bills during the 2013-14 fiscal year, Friia said.

Homeowners affected by Sandy will also be able to apply next year to the town's Board of Assessment Appeals for reduced assessments.

"We anticipate that the volume will probably increase in the amount of cases that we'll hear, due to the storm," said Board of Assessment Appeals Chairman David Krauss. "We have to address each person's individual situation separately and look at how the properties were affected."

Seven homes in Westport were destroyed by Sandy, according to town emergency management officials. Friia estimates about 10 homeowners will be eligible for a prorated assessment.

The town did not prorate assessments for any homeowners last year after Tropical Storm Irene, according to Friia.

Reducing assessments for storm-ravaged homes will likely not have a substantial impact on the town's Grand List, Friia added.

Personal property destroyed by Sandy may be eligible for an assessment proration from the date of the damage to the next assessment date, according to state law. A town's legislative body must approve the assessment reduction for personal property.

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott