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Board of Assessors Candidates

May 3, 2023

Stow Board of Assessors candidates Leonard Golder (incumbent) and Cindy Cummings, both running for a single 3-year seat, were asked a series of questions regarding their views on being a member of the Board of Assessors. Their answers appear below, UNEDITED.

Len Golder: I am running for re-election to the Board of Assessors after completing the remaining 2 years of a 3 year term. I became Chair after serving 1 year

The Board of Assessors is one of those under the radar positions in local government but it performs one of the most importnat functions–hearing abatements and exemptions on property taxes .

I am an attorney and past real estate broker.I have served in Stow town government as a member of the Selectboard ,Library Trustees and Planning Board. Currently I also serve on the Zoning Board of Appeals
The Assessing Department and the Board of Assessors have undergone a number of personnel changes As Chair I have worked to weather these transitions and maintain continuity on the Board

Cindy Cummings: My name is Cindy Cummings, Stow resident since 2002. I am a professional violinist and a licensed Real Estate Agent, first with REMAX Executive Realty and then at RTN Realty Advisors.

Seeing some of the same names in town government over these past 20 years I feel it is my turn to offer my expertise and time to give back to our town. There is a wonderful town spirit and pride in the vision for Stow as an agricultural preservation town, which I appreciate. Recently there was a sudden rise in the Lake Boon abutters’ tax rate to reflect an increasing value of living on the lake. That got my attention and hence intrigued me with the job of assessors and how it impacts residents. With my experience in valuing homes for buyers and sellers in various communities I would like to offer my skills to value properties properly and equitably in Stow.

Question 1. The Assessors are tasked with assigning value to all property in the community at full and fair cash value (market value) as outlined in state laws. How will you approach the position to ensure you will be fair and equitable in your assessments.

Golder: To be clear,the assessments are done by the in house staff of the Assessing Department who are hired by the Townl. The Board of Assessors who are currently elected hear requests by homeowners for abatements and exemptions as well as review and approve expenditures.

The Board of Assessors do not do the Assessments Nevertheless it is important for members of the Board to know the Assessment process and thus enable Board members to decide abatements and exemptions
Essentially assessments are based on comparable sales The purest comparable is the sale price of the home being assessed if it’s a recent purchase Otherwise recent sales of comparable properties are used Assessments are based on property value Exemptions are based on financial need and can be awarded if homeowners come under certain categories eg seniors,surviving spouse,veterans ,disabled people and meet financial guidelines such as income and or assets.

Having served on many boards I have used my experience to makel decisions in a fair and impartial manner following the statues and guidelines

Cummings: As a realtor I have years of experience with this manner of valuing and comparing homes as this is done for every real estate listing based on comparable homes (style, size, location, age, condition, updates). I am familiar with the market and ongoing trends that influence pricing. There are standards and an established criteria to follow to get a fair and accurate mathematical assessment for all our properties.

Question 2: One of the recommended Charter changes is for the Board of Assessors to be made up of the Principal Assessor and two members appointed by the Select Board rather than elected. Part of the reason for this recommendation is due to the difficulty in finding properly certified candidates. Do you have the certification needed and do you agree with this potential change?

Golder: Generally I like elected positions It requires candidates to meet and greet voters obtaini signatures, attend a candidates night hopefully and answer a candidate questionnaire and be answerable to the voters

However,we have often had problems getting enough people to run for this office It’s one of the reasons I ran for this office And there are people who have knowledge of Assessing but don’t want to run for office

I proposed a hybrid solution:change the composition of the Board to 2 elected members ,2 appointed members and the Chief Assessor as Chair That way we’d get a combination of the benefits of both elected and appointed members

However other members in Town Government were not enthused ,stating that this is not done by any municipality.Local government is not always a hotbed for novelty and innovation

Given a choice between a totally elected or totally appointed Board I would opt for the appointed Board, given the pros and cons stated with the Selectboard giving approval and confirmation .of the memb
There is no pre certification for new members However he Department of Revenue requires all new members to pass a series of courses during their tenure .I have completed all the courses and I am certified

Cummings: Elected. Even though it might be difficult to find a qualified candidate, the more access residents have to those in office the better. A voted-in candidate will always be a better representative for the people of Stow.

QUESTION 3: As a Board member, what can you do to assist residents in understanding their assessment?

Golder: In addition to the functions mandated by statute, bylaws and the Charter ,I have assumed the function of being a spokesperson on Assessing in Town

While the Assessors may be under the radar most of the year ,they come into view when people get their tax bills Some people look at their taxes and then their assessments and if they got a tax increase they attribute it to a higher assessment.

I have gone on local social media and talked to people in general to explain :the biggest determinant of what you pay in taxes is what the Town spends . Assessments determine the proportion of the pie you pay But the assessments are determined by home sales We can’t as a town control the housing market.From my experience, asking prices and what people are willing to pay are almost always higher than the assessments You can ask the in house Assessors to visit and reevaluate your house and if you’re still not satisfied you can appeal to the State Appellate Tax Board.

However the size of the pie is determined by what the Town spends.You do have a say in what the Town spends .We have an open Town Meeting That means you can attend and vote on the budget

If I’m reelected I will continue to do my best to serve in the best interests of the Town.The Town Election is Saturday May 20th I ask for your vote. For questions and comments [email protected]

Cummings: As a realtor I communicate with my clients a general valuation of their home I am happy to further extend this style of communication with residents to explain the formulas in place to calculate the final number of their assessment. Additionally, I can explain the paperwork and codes on file so they may better grasp the meaning of the numbers on the form that establish the rates for their assessment. I could also aid in recommending an abatement and how to file such a request. As an elected official my job would be to serve the people of Stow.