Published in the June 15, 2016 edition


WAKEFIELD — The town of Wakefield has joined forces with dozens of other Massachusetts communities in an anticipated legal battle with telecom giant Verizon of New England.
Verizon has filed appeals in every city and town in Massachusetts with the state Appellate Tax Board for the years 2010-2011 claiming the value of their personal property should be about 50 percent of the value at which it was assessed.
In addition, Verizon has targeted about 120 towns with split (residential and commercial) tax rates, including Wakefield, and filed appeals for the years 2012-2016.
Wakefield Director of Assessments Victor Santaniello appeared before the Board of Selectmen Monday to seek the board’s blessing to join forces with many cities and towns, including Boston, to retain a single attorney to defend the assessed values.
Santaniello told the selectmen that Verizon’s personal property (poles, wires, conduits, etc.) is assessed at between $10 million and $12 million annually.
“So Wakefield has seven years under appeal,” Santaniello said. If Verizon were to prevail, Santaniello said, the cost to the town of Wakefield would be about $750,000.
He told the selectmen that the Middlesex County Assessors Association last February began kicking around ideas for how to deal with the situation. They decided to talk to their counterparts in Boston, Billerica and Brookline who advised pooling resources behind one attorney who specializes in personal property and telecommunications law.
The communities decided to retain the services of Boston attorney Anthony M. Ambriano.
Ambriano bills at a rate of $255 an hour. Fees for services of associates would be billed at $170 per hour and paralegal fees would be $75/hour.
He would consult with the assessors in the various communities and advise as to the prosecution and defense of Appellate Tax Board appeals concerning Verizon New England. Inc. and related MCI entities. He would handle trials before the Appellate Tax Board including pretrial preparation, discovery, post-trial briefs and requests for rulings and findings.
Santaniello stressed that telecommunications personal property law is a highly specialized subset of tax law and far more complex than defending, for example, the assessed value of a single family home.
Santaniello said that at the moment, in addition to Wakefield and Reading, there are 23 other communities signed on retain Ambriano to defend the municipalities. He said that he hoped to increase that number and get as many as 35-40 cities and towns involved.
“The goal is to get as many communities as we can on board to lessen the cost for each community,” Santaniello said.
He estimated that to go to trial it would cost about $500,000 in legal and other expenses including expert witnesses. He suggested that Wakefield kick in $35,000.
Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio said that he was 100 percent behind Santaniello’s efforts.
“I completely support Victor in this,” Maio said. “He spearheaded the whole thing.” Maio noted that the cost would fall within the town’s legal budget.
The selectmen voted unanimously in favor of retaining Ambriano as counsel to represent the town in the Verizon appellate tax matter.