Wind, snow, cold and rain have not slowed the first citywide property reassessment since 1968 in Rehoboth Beach. It's a process that city officials say will soon wrap up.
Citizens are expected to see their property valuations in early-to-mid April.
Commissioner Patrick Gossett, the city’s liaison on the project, said it's been so long since the last reassessment, officials have no baseline or benchmark to judge progress. "We’re proceeding to conclude by April 1.”
The city has more than 3,225 parcels within its limits, Gossett said. About 89 percent, or 2,877 parcels have been evaluated, he said, with assessors going through about 250 parcels per week.
One of those doing the job is Jonathan Larson, a 25-year veteran of property valuations who is one of two assessors working on the project from contractor PTA DelVal of Rehoboth.
“Our goal is to look at every building and make necessary corrections and changes to the size of the building to the features of the building to the type of roof, to the type of siding, to the number of stores. Does it have a basement? Does it have fire places?” Larson said.
Larson recently worked on the second block of Delaware Avenue after finishing the beach block earlier. His work is relatively simple: using the building record the city has provided him, he takes a picture of the outside of the house and then takes measurements of all four sides of the house to make sure they lineup with what city records show. Any variations are recorded and will be factored into the final valuation.
Larson said he tries to grade the houses based on the quality of construction and give them physical depreciation based on its condition. The house he’s looking at is a two-story home likely built in the 1940s. Besides home construction, Larson records features such as a fireplace, central air or a basement.
Larson is working the south end of town while another assessor works the north end. He previously worked in Vermont before working for PTA DelVal, and said the cold winter has not been a big deterrent for him. Larson said even snowstorms have not stopped him from doing his job.
“It slows you down some. It’s harder to work in the rain than the snow. We joke with the guys we work for, ‘It’s not you we’re worried about, it’s the paperwork,” Larson said.
For Larson, 1968 is basically Year Zero in Rehoboth.
“If you look at the records of the city of Rehoboth Beach it was basically a ghost town before 1968,” he said. Just about every house in the city is labeled as being built in 1968, even though most houses were built before then.
David Hickey, vice president PTA DelVal, said the reassessment will bring every property in the city up to date. He said any changes to tax rates would be on a parcel-by-parcel basis. At the end of the day, Hickey said, the total city tax revenues would remain the same.
Larson will typically try to talk to a homeowner who is at home during the process to get more information on the house. He said he’s found that only about one in 30 homeowners are home.
“You have to defer to the fact that you’re going to learn what you can from the exterior and if the owner’s home, great, talk to them,” he said. Larson said homeowners that he has been able to talk to have been friendly and aware of the work he’s doing through a letter sent out before the reassessment began.
“It’s been very smooth sailing,” Larson said.
The most difficult aspect of the job for Larson has been commercial areas. He said on an average day in the commercial areas, he can do 10 parcels, as opposed to 30 to 40 parcels per day in the residential neighborhoods.
Commercial buildings are bigger, and in order to grade them properly, Larson said he sometimes needs to squeeze into tight spaces where buildings are tucked together.
Hickey said his expectation is that land values will go up dramatically; he said when the last assessment was done in 1968, property in Rehoboth was selling for $30,000, when these days it sells for around $1 million. Hickey said the reassessment is also factoring in recent sales data to get an idea of the property’s value. Larson said another factor affecting property values are lots where a house has been purchased at a low price.
Hickey said once the valuations are complete, informal hearings with the public will be held for discussion and possible appeals before reaching a final valuation. At that point, he said, it will be up to the city commissioners to adjust the tax rate to the new assessment.
Mayor Sam Cooper said he hoped the reassessment would be completed by now, but the project is moving smoothly.
The reassessment has cost the city a total of $132,000; Gossett said the project would not go over budget because the cost is fixed per parcel.
“I think we’re in good shape,” he said.