After five months of work, Cicero’s assessment committee has worked out a plan to address the assessment issue in the town.
The committee is calling for the town to switch from partial to full assessments, to add staff at the assessor’s office, to improve the grievance process and to conduct a town-wide reassessment over the next two years.
The committee came up with their recommendations by working with representatives from the state and county offices of real property tax services, as well as several assessors from neighboring municipalities.
There is no quick, easy fix for this problem, said John Winters, chairman of the committee, who presented the recommendations entitled Moving to Assessment Fairness and Equity for the Town of Cicero. This is truly a process, and it’s a lengthy process, but it has to be done in order to insure equity in our tax rolls.
Cicero is currently assessed on a partial basis using an equalization rate. According to the assessor’s office, the equalization rate changes every year depending on the sales activities in the real estate market and is meant to reflect those changes. The actual number is arrived after a review of market data by both New York state and the town of Cicero assessor. When the rate drops, market value increases. Conversely, when the rate goes up, market values decrease. This year, the rate was 4.9 percent.
If the town switches to a full assessment, the assessed value of a house – the number real property taxes are based on – will be its full market value.
The state is also encouraging this move, offering $5 per parcel – a total of $67,750 for Cicero’s 13,550 parcels – in state aid to make the switch.
Unfortunately, there is no way to stagger or gradually increase real property taxes based on assessments. But residents shouldn’t be concerned that, if the town switches to a full assessment, their taxes will necessarily skyrocket.
Full assessment is not a big, bad bugaboo, said Melinda McElroy, a member of the committee. It makes it easier and it gives the state assurance that our tax rolls are accurate.
But it doesn’t mean taxes will go up automatically, she said.
If your property is currently under-assessed, then, yes, your taxes will go up, she said. But that happens whether we go to full assessment or not. If you’re over-assessed, your taxes will go down. If you’re correctly assessed, they’ll stay the same.
One thing is for sure – something has to be done.
This town has been unfairly assessed for years, said committee member Greg Tupper. We have to take a big step to correct it so that, looking into the future, our taxes will be fair.
The committee’s recommendations:
‘ ‘Upgrade the assessor’s office
‘ Add staffing to be certain that the assessment roll is kept current, the office is staffed whenever town offices are open and there is increased communication with and assistance for homeowners
‘ Staff should be one assessor, one appraiser, two data collectors and one clerk (five full-time staff, up from three currently)
‘ Investigate and utilize computer software applications from the state and/or county
‘ Offer proper training, especially in dealing with the public in a courteous and professional manner
‘ Review and update descriptions of staff experience requirements regularly
‘ ‘Perform a revaluation of all properties and move to a full value assessment
‘ Eliminate the extra calculations and work necessitated by the partial value system by switching to a full market assessment
‘ Complete a comprehensive inventory and full revaluation of all properties in the town within two years (starting January 2009 and to be completed by May 2011)
‘ Hire an outside contractor to perform the revaluation to speed up the process and alleviate pressure on assessment staff
‘ Communicate the mission with the public by sending a mailer requesting that data collectors be given access to property in order to verify existing data, take pictures and record any new or changed data
‘ After the initial review is complete, send data to homeowners to get their approval and make necessary corrections
‘ In order to aid in the computerized management of assessments and the annual reassessment process, perform a full analysis of the number and type of neighborhoods in the town and define new neighborhoods as needed
‘ Assign a full market value to each property, validate that value and share it with homeowners, allowing sufficient time for an informal review and collection process
‘ ‘Improve public relations within the assessor’s office
‘ Make the assessment process more transparent, open and understandable to residents and property owners
‘ Everyone in the assessor’s office must work every day to gain the confidence of the public
‘ Communicate assessments informally to the public two months prior to the official posting of the assessment roll, allowing sufficient time for informal review and adjustments
‘ Post information regarding exemptions, dates and the grievance process on the town website and at the assessor’s office
Members of the committee:
Mary Rae Dopke
Town board liaison: Charlotte Tarwacki
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.