DARIEN — Amid growing concerns about potential tax hikes due to recent property value increases, town officials said residents’ bills will likely decrease thanks to New York transplants, high-value houses and new mixed-use developments.
This month, the Assessor’s Office released the 2023 revaluation of properties across Darien, a state-mandated process that municipalities must complete every five years. Compared to 2018 values, the office found that residential properties increased, on average, anywhere from 26 to 33 percent.
But once the town informed residents about the bump in values, First Selectman Jon Zagrodzky said, some worried that the increase would mean higher property taxes for the next five years.
“We’ve had a number of calls about this because, in some of those letters, the property value increases have been 20, 30, 40 percent — some really big numbers,” Zagrodzky said. “And a few folks have called and been concerned, worried that maybe their taxes are going to go up by that much.”
In a Monday video by Darien TV79, Zagrodzky said a property tax hike is “not necessarily the case.” Because municipalities often raise taxes to fund their operating budgets, he explained, Darien can keep the current mill rate of 17.61 steady moving forward, with minimal increases to the current $150 million budget.
Town Assessor Anthony Homicki told CT Examiner on Monday that the revaluation suggests the mill rate will actually drop. The only question, he said, is by how much.
“It’s a redistribution of the tax base internally within the residential community,” Homicki said. “If everything goes up uniformly at 30 percent or 29 percent, we know the mill rate will drop.”
According to a Nov. 20 news release by Homicki, residential properties dominate Darien, making up about 85 percent of the town tax base and bringing in approximately $7.6 billion. If increases for single-family houses aren’t consistent townwide, he said, taxes will almost certainly go up.
For example, Homicki said many property values in northern Darien either stabilized or decreased in the 2018 revaluation, while properties close to transit increased between 7 and 9 percent. That year, the grand list dropped by about $104,000 and the mill rate increased by just over 2 percent compared to 2017.
But over the last five years, Homicki said northern properties have held their value, and the rest of town generally showed a 29 to 33 percent increase.
In the latest revaluation, Homicki and his team identified more than 600 property sales over the last five years. Since 2020, he said, Darien has relied especially on residential purchases from New Yorkers moving into town.
“With the pandemic, we did see an influx of people coming into Fairfield County from New York, and a lot of people stayed,” he said.
Homicki said the purchases of high-value houses help the town fund its annual budget.
“If we rely on anything, it’s these properties that are over $10 million in value,” he said.
According to the 2022 grand list, almost 50 properties in Darien are appraised at more than $10 million. This year, many of those properties experienced a smaller rise in value compared to cheaper houses.
In the case of a six-bedroom, single-family house on Long Neck Point Road, the appraised value jumped 16 percent from $11,888,100 in 2018 to $13,959,300 in 2023. Darien’s most expensive property, the town-owned Great Island, also increased by 16 percent, from an appraised value of $42,747,600 in 2018 to $50,592,200 this year.
But single-family houses with less land, square footage and bedrooms largely stayed within Homicki’s estimates. For instance, a three-bedroom house in the Springdale neighborhood increased by 23 percent, and a two-bedroom house in Noroton jumped by 32 percent.
A $160 million development
While commercial and mixed-use properties account for just 10 percent of the overall tax base, Homicki highlighted one new development that gave the town a $160 million boost in appraised value — Darien Commons.
Federal Realty Investment Trust, a real estate investment company, purchased the land and existing commercial buildings at 76 Heights Road in 2013. Eight years later, the company built 122 apartments and additional retail space, while maintaining many of the buildings.
“Those four or five buildings that were there years ago had a value of approximately $28 million,” Homicki said. “So there’s a significant difference for people wanting to get off the train and rent here in Darien.”
In addition to Darien Commons, Homicki said other developments like The Corbin District and The Heights helped increase the tax base. Overall, he estimated the value of mixed-use properties increased anywhere between 9 and 20 percent compared to the 2018 revaluation.
Asked how these figures could impact local taxes, Homicki said the new projects helped supplement quiet commercial properties in town, likely decreasing the mill rate.
“There’s handful of office buildings that did not go up in value,” Homicki said. “Some of them have a little bit of vacancy that occurred with people not necessarily going back to work quickly, and the rental rates have stayed pretty uniform.”
In his video, Zagrodzky backed Homicki’s reassessment methodology, which takes the regional real estate market and reported cost and income of properties into account. The first selectman said residents can still request an appeal if they feel their property’s value was overstated.