Art Prest

Jul 052015
 

I haven’t a clue as to what possessed John Ellenberger to write the article in the June 26, 2015 edition of

  • Tthe Groton Herald
  • titled “The Data Scientist: Does Lost Lake Pay 40 percent more in taxes?” Not only is his database off base but his “scientific” approach has no basis in reality.

    What Mr. Ellenberger apparently fails to understand is that in 2008, the Town increased the assessed value of waterfront land on Lost lake and Knops Pond by 40 percent as a result of market data that indicated that that about six waterfront properties had sold at prices higher than their assessed value. The assessed value of buildings on waterfront land was not increased, nor was the assessed value of land that is across the street from Lost Lake or Knops Pond increased. The result was that a piece of waterfront land on the lake that had been assessed for example at $100,000 in 2007 was reassessed in 2008 at $140,000 while a similar piece of land across the street from the lake, but not on the waterfront, that had been assessed at $100,000 was still assessed at $100,000. Thus the assessed value, and resulting taxes, for waterfront land on Lost Lake & Knops Pond were increased by 40 percent. These changes created major concerns for waterfront land owners that were covered extensively in 2008 by the Lowell Sun, the Groton Landmark, The Boston Globe and Talk About Groton. As reported in the Lowell Sun in January of 2008 (http://www.lowellsun.com/front/ci_7932720), the assessment on a lake front house on Highland Road on Lost Lake increased by 53 percent virtually overnight, and the resulting tax bill went from $3,600 in 2007 to $5,400 in 2008. This house has been owned by the same family for over 80 years.

    Now let’s look at three waterfront houses on Knops Pond that are side by side. The first house is 2,087 square foot house is assessed at $320,900 and the 0.28 acre (12,000 square feet) waterfront lot is assessed at $194,700 for a total of $515,600. The Town of Groton, using an algorithm that is called a “land curve”, assesses this waterfront land at $16.23 per square foot. The second house is a 600 square foot year-round house next door to the South of the first house, is assessed at $46,300 and the 0.34 acre (14,600 square feet) waterfront lot is assessed at $206,700 for a total of $253,000. The Town of Groton, again using a “land curve”, assesses this waterfront land at $14.16 per square foot. The third house is a 648 square foot non-winterized unheated summer camp next door to the North of the first house, is assessed at $19,900 and the 0.30 acre (12,800 square feet) lot is assessed at $200,000 for a total of $219,900. The Town of Groton, again using a “land curve”, assesses this waterfront land at $15.62 per square foot. However, the house across the street from these three houses, which is not on the waterfront, is on 0.48 acres (i.e., 20,909 square feet) of non-waterfront land that is assessed at only $150,300 or $7.19 per square foot as compared to the “summer camp’s” 0.30 acres of waterfront land that is assessed at $200,000 or $15.62 per square foot. In this case, the waterfront land is assessed on a square foot basis and more than twice that of the non-waterfront land across the street. These differences in land assessments for waterfront land verses non-waterfront land are true all around Lost Lake and Knops Pond.

    Mr. Ellenberger uses Nashua Road in his analysis. Since he happens to live on Nashua Road, let’s compare the assessments on Lost Lake and Knops Pond to the assessments for Mr. Ellenberger’s own house and land. His 1,894 square foot house is assessed at $136,100 and his 3.05 acre (132,422 square feet) lot is assessed at $177,600 for a total of $313,700. The Town of Groton, again using a “land curve”, assesses his non-waterfront land at $2.10 per square foot for the first 80,000 square feet and $0.18 per square foot for the remaining 53,422 square feet for an average assessment of $1.34 per square foot of land while the three houses on Knops Pond are assessed at an average of $15.06 per square foot of waterfront land. In short, Mr. Ellenberger’s large non-waterfront land is assessed at less than 9 percent, on a square foot basis, of the small waterfront lots around Lost Lake and Knops Pond!

    I must question Mr. Ellenberger’s choice of Birchwood Avenue and Pine Trial for providing representative data for his analysis of Lost Lake. There are eighteen properties on Birchwood Avenue, eleven of which have homes on them. There are only a five homes on Birchwood Avenue that are on the waterfront and there are no houses on Pine Trail that are on the waterfront. And if you compare the land assessments for the houses on the waterfront on Birchwood Avenue versus those that are not on the water, you will see the same results that I described above: waterfront owners are assessed more and pay significantly more in taxes for their land. In addition, his analysis leaves out the approximately 150 houses on the waterfront of Lost Lake and Knops Pond. I would suggest that Mr. Ellenberger use the homes on both sides of Whiley Road in his comparison since these are also in what he refers to as “in Lost Lake”, whatever that means since there is no official neighborhood called Lost Lake — there is only a lake and its waterfront residents. If he were to include Whiley Road in his data he will find a combination of million dollar homes on large lots and smaller homes on tiny lots and the land on the waterfront are assessed significantly higher than the land that is not. His average value would be in excess of any of the other areas they he covered in Groton.

    Thus, based on facts and data, it is painfully obvious that those of us who live on the waterfront of Lost Lake and Knops Pond pay much more than an additional 40 percent in taxes for their properties as compared to those with similar sized homes on large lots who don’t live on the waterfront. And this is driven by the fact that waterfront land is assessed far above non-waterfront land.

    So the answer to the question that he poses in the title of his article is yes, Lost Lake does pay 40 percent more in taxes for similar sized homes in other areas of Groton! In fact, the assessed value of waterfront land around Lost Lake and Knops Pond are no longer marked up by 40 percent, they are now marked up by 45 percent!

    As a final note, in 2012, I did an extensive analysis on a lot by lot basis on what the incremental tax revenue was based on the 40 percent increase in assessments of waterfront property on Lost Lake and Knops Pond. The answer was that as of 2102, the land owners of the waterfront property on Lost Lake and Knops Pond were paying an additional ~$170,000 per year in increased taxes. This equates to additional tax revenue to the Town of Groton since 2008 of more than $1.4 million.

    Art Prest
    Groton Massachusetts


    Apr 142015
     

    Dear Editor,

    Since I announced I was a candidate for Selectman in Groton many people have asked who are you, how long have you been in Groton, and why should we vote for you?

    So who am I? My name is Art Prest and I am the fifth son of a Gold Star Mother. So why is that of note? It’s the reason that my family and I are in Groton today. In 1946 my brother Val Prest vacationed for a week on Lost Lake in Groton with a friend and his family. When he returned home to Watertown Massachusetts, he asked my mother and father couldn’t we have a vacation home like that? They told him that they didn’t have the money to buy land and build a place. My mother and father thought a lot about that question. They were both from the lakes region in Maine and had great memories of those lakes. So they decided to buy some land on Lost Lake that year even though they didn’t have the money to build a cottage.

    Then in the spring of 1947 my parents received an insurance check for my older brother 1st Lieutenant Robert F. Prest who was the pilot and aircraft commander of a United States Army Air Force B-24 bomber that was shot down on October 9, 1944 on a mission in the South Pacific during World War II. He and his crew had been declared Missing -In-Action since that date and the United States Army Air Force declared them dead in 1947. That insurance money was used to build a log cabin on the land that they had bought the year before. I was two years old and yet have some vague memories of my father, mother and two older brothers, Ed and David, building that log cabin using only hand tools since there was no electricity available for power tools.

    Once that cabin was built we would spend our weekends and summer vacation on Lost Lake. My summers here in Groton with my brothers and new neighborhood friends were magical. I remember paddling around the lake in an Old Town canvas canoe and rowing around in an old wooden rowboat. I remember fishing with a bamboo fishing rod, catching frogs, swimming and doing what kids do. As a boy I remember the “Labor Day Picnic” held every year at Whiley Johnson’s (for whom Whiley Road was named). Labor Day marked the end of the summer but my friends and I had a wonderful time with three legged races and potato sack races while the adult’s played horse shoes, talked about the present, and reminisced about the past.

    Then tragedy struck our family. On a rainy Labor Day in 1951, my father died in that log cabin from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 53 years old but I was only 6. I was there and saw it happen. I remember vividly the details of that day. It was a day that impacted the rest of my life. My dad died in a cabin that he had designed and built for his family, on a lake that he loved. It is a memory that tied my heart, soul, and very being to Lost Lake and to Groton.

    As the years flew by and I grew older, Lost Lake became the center of life for a large part of the year. Swimming, boating, water skiing, fishing, barbecuing, partying and having great times with my friends and neighbors were the norm.

    When my wife, Carole, and I decided to retire in 2010, Groton was a natural choice. It’s a place you never want to leave: Many of the friends I made during those summers as a young boy are now my neighbors. What better place to retire than in a place that you love, and are reunited with five families you have known since you were a child?

    Over the past seven decades, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the town, and Groton in the future faces some big challenges in the future. Its economic vitality is one of my chief concerns, as an aging residential population bears far more of the tax burden through property taxes than many comparable towns in the area.

    However, Groton has so much to offer in the form of natural resources that can be used for recreation for families and seniors alike. I believe that we need to leverage these natural resources as a way to begin to shift that tax burden off the backs of residents so that we can fully fund our schools pay our teachers a fair salary, fix our roads, improve our infrastructure, support our sports teams, support our children’s recreational endeavors, and provide new and/or improved facilities for our citizens, young and old.

    To accomplish that I am working on a strategy to attract more small businesses to Groton and bring tax relief to residents while maintaining the character of Groton. But in order to do that we need to restore civility in town politics, enabling the selectmen and committees to accomplish more without the infighting that is creating discord and havoc within the town.

    If you would to learn more about me, please visit my homepage at www.artprest.com or my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/artprestgroton/timeline.

    I hope you will join me in my campaign for selectman by voting for me on May 19. Together, we can make a difference.

    Art Prest
    Candidate for Selectman