Apr 23, 2009 Ami Olson Uncategorized
The reasons for performing a townwide revaluation in Elbridge are many, like creating equity among taxpayers, developing an annual reval program, and even developing an inter-municipal cap to save costs and increase efficiency.
But, as the group of more than 40 residents pointed out Wednesday April 15, there is one reason not to go through with the reval that trumps all the benefits: the economy.
The Elbridge Town Board meeting was moved to the community center last week to make room for the unusually large group in attendance, virtually all of whom sought an explanation as to they their assessments were so high.
Supervisor Ken Bush began the meeting by offering a point of clarification.
“Laws are set up to keep politics out of assessments,” Bush said. “This should not be a political process.” As he would several times throughout the meeting, Bush explained that the town board is responsible for appointing an assessor, but the rest of the process and the results are out of the board’s hands.
Joe Van Lieu, president of the Dodier Drive Homeowner’s Association, represented his neighborhood as one with some of the highest assessments in the town.
“It’s the responsibility of the board to look at the process and police the process. As a town board, you have to be responsible for who the board appoints,” Van Lieu argued.
Many residents echoed his sentiments, calling for a review of Assessor Larry Fitts’ methods, citing the number of residents whose assessments’ seemed ridiculously high.
Hundreds of residents claiming inaccurate assessments is the sign of a larger problem, the audience agreed.
Penny Ceratt confirmed Friday that there were between 550 and 600 informal hearing appointments made with the assessor or a representative, where residents had 10 minutes to present information to the assessor that could modify his findings and change their assessments.
In a regular year, Ceratt said fewer than 10 taxpayers will typically grieve their assessments.
Know the facts
From the New York State Office of Real Property Services, Janet Lasell was initially invited to the meeting by the board to explain the process and reasons for revaluation, but spent most of her time answering questions from the audience.
She offered advice to homeowners heading to an informal hearing — “You need to go to him with facts,” — but pointed out that Fitts’ revaluation was reviewed by the state, which found that his final numbers were accurate.
“Assessment is not an exact science,” Lasell said. A group of assessors could all come up with different values for the same property, so the fact that the state and Fitts formulated nearly exactly the same numbers was a good sign that the methods were solid.
That being said, she reminded taxpayers that Fitts had not been inside their homes — if their basement was under water, he needed to know that to come up with an accurate assessment, and the informal hearing process was their chance to share that information with him.
Is it too late?
If next year’s market values indicate a negative trend, as the national housing market and even Lasell seemed to imply it could, homeowners might experience a decrease is assessments – that is, if the town does establish an annual revaluation program.
So why not pause this reval, when people are already battling a failed economy, and wait until next year?
That’s just not an option, according to Bush. For one thing, state law does not grant the town board the authority to change assessments or even stop the reval process.
The board can request that of the assessor, but the decision to do so lies with the assessor.
Bush said the board is not considering asking that of Fitts.
“This has been going on for two years, we committed to do this,” Bush said. “It costs the town about $30,000 to do a reval, the taxpayer has a lot invested in this.”
And, there is no guarantee that waiting a year would lower the assessed value of Elbridge homes, as the Central New York area has remained relatively untouched by national trends thus far.
If the town were to bank on a negative trend next year
And, Bush pointed out, while some properties experienced significant increases in their assessments, others have decreased in market value, and taxpayers’ whose properties’ assessed values have gone down would have been paying more than their fair share. To go another year without equitable assessments would punish those taxpayers.
“Are the properties valued correctly? That’s what the whole thing is about – and to stop that process would that be unfair to other property owners,” Bush said. “This is why I’m a proponent of a countywide assessment office.”
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