Western residents angry about new tax assessments
WESTERN — The Western Town Board's meeting to address the reassessment project ended abruptly after the public grew restless.
The board met on Thursday, March 23, at the Western Volunteer Fire Department, where there was standing room only as people waited to air their concerns over the reassessment.
This reassessment was a long time coming, with Supervisor Diane Butler saying the last reassessment by the town was around 38 years ago. An assessment update does not increase tax revenue; rather, it redistributes the tax burden fairly.
On March 1, the town of Western sent out assessment disclosure notices with the new full value assessment for 2023. This assessment was done by GAR Associates.
This meeting was to address an investigation by the town, where it was found that there were discrepancies in valuations.
"We promised we would do investigations and have conversations with GAR," Butler said. "After conversations with GAR and doing our due diligence, we are moving forward with revaluation. We cannot turn this back, your assessment taxes are not going to go back to where they were. And furthermore, it would open us up to litigation."
Forty percent of the properties that were revalued saw their assessments decrease. And out of 1,333 parcels in Western, GAR has only received 44 requests for an informal review process.
Butler urged residents who feel their revaluation is not correct to fill out an informal review request with GAR.
"You have three steps," she said. "We start with an informal review. Following that, you can file a grievance if you don't like how that comes back on May 1. And finally, you can go to court if that's what you need to do."
Assessor Steve Hunter said he came into the town in 2017 and saw that many properties were badly under or over assessed, and the town had an equalization rate of around 55%.
"And it went down a little bit each year," he said. "Early last year, we were notified it was going to go down to 48% and the town board felt it was time to do this."
The town board contracted GAR Associates to do the reassessment project; they have been doing reassessment projects for 20 years.
Hunter said the project was started two years ago and mailers were sent out at various times through the year and a public meeting was offered last July.
The first cracks in the meeting showed at Hunter's statement, with many people denying the town received these letters. A cacophony of people all tried to speak at once, prompting Butler to call the meeting to order and demand the town let Hunter speak.
"Every property owner was sent a letter, though there were probably a few letters that weren't delivered because we didn't have your proper address," Hunter said. "Every effort was made to contact you. You were sent an inventory sheet with what was believed to be on your property, with the approximate dates they were constructed and what state they were in."
However, it's become apparent that there were mistakes on GAR's part that needed to be rectified when the public was allowed to speak.
Hunter said GAR had no axe to grind, but it did little to quell resident's anger toward their new valuations.
"GAR had two years to do this, I have three weeks. I don't know why we didn't get these [valuations] six months ago," he said. “… the ski slope is valued at $500 an acre. I asked [the GAR representative] how they came up with that number. He said, 'Because who's going to come into Westernville to buy a ski slope?' That same theory should be applied to every single farm and house. Because who's going to go to Quaker Hill and buy a 100-year-old dairy farm for $2 million?"
But what truly incensed residents was the misidentification of their properties.
"I bought my house in Westernville in 2005," a woman in the audience said. "It sold for $26,500 and was flipped to me for $169,000 but they used spit and paper. It's falling apart. The chimneys are falling down, the floors are warped, and I can't use the attic because it floods every spring. My porch is falling off and that needs to be fixed. But [GAR] took my house from $86,000 and brought it up to $234,000. And here's the thing. They added 489 square feet to my house because they counted my shed as a living space."
Similar issues were seen, with many residents seeing their valuations go up two or even three times while misidentifications were made about their property. In one case, a man said his RV was counted as a mobile home. Another said their home burnt down and after speaking with GAR, was told that they used Google Maps to make their valuation on the previous property.
After the meeting, Butler said GAR didn't work as well as they could have with the town assessor.
Hunter stressed that the letters those in the agricultural community received on or around March 3 with the new assessments did not include agricultural exemption amounts in the final figure.
"Whatever number was at the bottom that detailed your tax burden did not include your agricultural exemption," Hunter said. "If you had an agricultural exemption and still have one, your figure should be lower — considerably lower."
Butler said there was nothing the town could do to stop this and stressed that they couldn't break the contract.
This triggered shouting from the crowd of people and prompted Butler to end the meeting.
After the meeting, Butler said everyone received a letter in July.
"I got a letter and I sent mine back," she said. "[GAR] was making changes based on that letter. [One resident] had a camping trailer on their property and it was put down as a mobile home. He returned his letter and made GAR aware."
Butler continued, saying that the contract of GAR can't be broken when 40% of people in the town are seeing lower assessments. "That 40% can sue the town under Article 78 because they were assessed lower if we say we aren't going to honor the contract."
"And people don't understand that even if we don't honor the contract, we don't go back to our original assessment," she added.
What to do and Grievance Day
Those that disagree with their full value assessment are urged to do the following:
Visit townofwestern.prosgar.com to research sale and assessment data
Fill out an informal review application
Email or mail the completed informal review application with any supporting documentation to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail at GAR Associates LLC, PO Box 378, Clifton Park, NY 12065
All informal review submissions must be received by Monday, March 27 for consideration.
GAR will review all concerns sent to them and will respond by May with notifications of determination.
"The town assessor will be available to anyone who would like to review their assessment [starting May 1]," Butler said. "Grievance Day is May 24 for anyone who still wants to grieve their assessment."
For more information, visit the town website.
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