The Grand List of all taxable properties in Westport grew by about 1.5 percent last year to approximately $9.804 billion, compared to a net 2011 grand list of about $9.655 billion, according to Assessor Paul Friia.
The town's growing Grand List demonstrates the comparative strength of the local economy, rebounding faster from the last recession than many other communities in Connecticut and other parts of the nation.
The list comprises the total assessed value of all taxable real estate, motor vehicles and personal properties in town. Motor vehicles and personal property are valued annually, while real estate is updated based on the market values determined by the town's last property revaluation as of Oct. 1, 2010. Assessed value of real estate equals 70 percent of a property's appraised value.
Real estate assessment totals rose by 1.4 percent, reflecting the activity of new construction and renovations of residential and commercial properties, indicating the "continued strength" of the Westport real estate market, Friia said.
Pat Prenderville, an agent at Nicholas H. Fingelly Real Estate, said new construction is one of the "hottest segments" of Westport's residential real estate market. About 50 new homes were sold in town in 2012, according to Greater Fairfield County Consolidated Multiple Listing Service data.
"New construction is selling and Westport is very desirable," Prenderville said. "What's helping Westport more than neighboring communities are the [tax] contributions of new construction that add much more to the Grand List than the homes they replaced."
Newly built houses tend to boost town tax rolls because they are frequently assessed at higher values than the older homes they succeed on their respective lots. A property on Minute Man Hill in the Compo Beach neighborhood, which sold for $1.64 million in 2010, commanded a $5.15 million sale price when it was sold last year with a newly built house. Using the town's current property tax rate, the new home generates about $65,000 in annual tax revenue for the town, compared to an annual total of approximately $29,000 produced by the assessment of the former house on that lot.
Westport's commercial real estate sector is also showing signs of revival, said David Waldman, president of the Westport commercial real estate firm David Adam Realty. At the nadir of the recession in 2009, the building at 125 Main St. that he owned with Acadia Realty Trust, was about 90 percent vacant. Four years later, the 27,000-square-foot building is fully occupied by The Gap, Brooks Brothers Women and a hair salon, FRINGE 125, while a new restaurant will soon occupy the property's lower level.
Waldman and Acadia sold 125 Main St. in August 2012 to Campana LLC for $33.5 million, more than double its sale price in 2007.
"In the downtown, we're seeing lots of positive signs," Waldman said. "Lots of properties that were unproductive and empty a few years ago have become productive and vital. We're moving in the right direction."
Waldman is also a principal in Bedford Square Associates, the development firm that has contracted to buy the current downtown site of the Westport Weston Family Y and plans to redevelop it into a mixed-use complex.
The outlook for the town's retail sector has noticeably improved, with a number of new retailers such as Nike Running, Allen Edmonds, Calypso St. Barth, Benefit Cosmetics, Jonathan Adler, Intermix and Paper Source opening during the last two years in the town center.
Paper Source debuted last month at 100 Post Road East, the site of a new commercial building that will likely significantly raise the taxes generated by the property.
Correlating to the revival of the downtown, personal property in Westport posted a 10 percent increase in its total value last year, pointing to a continued upswing in commercial business activity.
"I think the confidence that entrepreneurs and business owners have in our town and economy speaks volumes for Westport," said Lisa Parrelli Gray, executive director and president of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce. "Hopefully, with all of the openings we've had, we'll continue to be able to continue to attract new businesses to Westport."
In contrast, motor vehicle assessment totals fell by approximately 1.5 percent from last year, a trend consistent with other towns in the state, according to Friia.
The 2012 Grand List posted an annual increase comparable to the approximately 1 percent rise from 2010 to 2011. In 2010, the list dropped by more than 12 percent as local real estate values declined sharply in the townwide revaluation conducted that year.
"While modest, the increase in the Grand List is positive and helps confirm the desirability of living in Westport," Michael Rea, the chairman of the Board of Finance's revenue-enhancement committee, said in an email Monday. "Westport's funding bodies must continue to be cautious about spending and raising taxes. The revenue stream does not justify us increasing expenditures beyond what is absolutely required to maintain our schools and vital town services."
The latest list of the 10 highest taxpayers in Westport was mostly unchanged from 2011.
Connecticut Light & Power again topped the list with a total assessment of approximately $131.3 million. Nyala Farms Inc. was the second-highest taxpayer as it was a year earlier, with an assessment of approximately $78.3 million, while Bridgewater Associates, the town's largest private-sector employer, came in third with an assessment totaling about $28.8 million.
Campana LLC was the sole new entrant in the top 10, notching the ninth-highest assessment, which totaled about $18 million.
The Grand List will be used for town budget calculations for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The list totals may change depending on the outcome of Board of Assessment Appeals hearings in March.
WESTPORT'S TOP-10 TAXPAYERS
Connecticut Light & Power, real estate and personal properties: $131,348,940 (assessed value)
Nyala Farms Inc., 60 Nyala Farms Road: $78,269,870
Bridgewater Associates Inc., real estate and personal properties: $28,786,810
Riverside Office 285 & 355, LLC, 285 & 355 Riverside Ave.: $21,990,600
Ronnie F. & Samuel J. Heyman, estate, Beachside Avenue residential: $19,994,700
Roseville Estates Inc. 1177 Post Road East: $19,831,960
Allianz Life Insurance Co., 55 Greens Farms Road: $19,075,500
Marc & Cathy Lasry, Beachside Avenue residential: $18,782,900
Campana 125, LLC, 125 Main St.: $17,958,400