Revaluation has become a viable fix for revenue-strapped municipalities in Westchester.
Greenburgh and Yonkers are among 12 municipalities preparing to revalue residential and commercial properties, many of which have not been assessed in 60 years.
Municipalities across the county have been hemorrhaging money in recent years as property owners have filed successful tax certioraris to lower their property tax burden. Certioraris, filings by property owners claiming their tax bill is too high, have increased in Westchester from 894 in 2006 to 9,068 in 2012. Yonkers and Greenburgh have the most tax certiorari filings in the county. The city of Yonkers will be forced to borrow more than $10 million to settle 3,500 cases. Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner said Greenburgh loses $10 million a year on tax certioraris.
Bronxville, Rye and Pelham have been doing revaluations over the last 10 years, while Mamaroneck and Scarsdale are in the process for the first time in 40 years.
In Westchester, where most municipalities have not done a revaluation in 60 years, properties are reassessed if any major renovations are done to the property. The other municipalities that have joined with Yonkers and Greenburgh for revaluations include Peekskill, Mount Vernon, Bedford, North Castle, Pleasantville, Ossining, New Castle, North Salem, Briarcliff Manor and Mount Kisco.
Yonkers will bond $3 million for the project, having already bonded $1 million, and has sent out a request for information to see what would be involved and how much it would cost. Request for proposals to get companies to bid on doing the revaluations are expected to be sent out soon.
Greenburgh recently released its 2013 capital budget with $1.5 million set aside for revaluation.
“This would stop the bleeding,” Feiner said. “Our revenues are going down; we cannot stabilize the tax rate if the revenues keep going down. We are giving away millions of dollars every year.”
Feiner estimates revaluation will cost the town at least $4 million. But he said money would be saved in the long run as a result of no longer having to settle tax certioraris, a viewed shared by other municipalities.
In Yonkers, a citywide revaluation has not been done since 1954. City Assessor Mark Russell has been pushing for one since he started his job 20 years ago.
“It’s only fair that you pay the taxes that reflect the current market value of your property,” Russell said. “When you’ve gone 60 years without a revaluation, you cannot expect the assessment rolls to be fair to all property owners.”
Russell said that a citywide revaluation would reduce certiorari and small claims assessment review filings by 50 percent.
New Rochelle recently hosted a League of Women Voters-sponsored forum on revaluation that featured assessors from throughout Westchester. New Rochelle City Manager Charles Strome has been a supporter of revaluation, having seen his city plagued by tax certioraris. He thinks that public opposition has curtailed revaluation efforts over the last 60 years.
“People think their taxes are going to go up,” Strome said. “It’s just not very popular. I’m not sure the public understands it, but they are afraid of it. I’m optimistic about a lot of things, but I am not optimistic about revaluation.”
County Executive Robert P. Astorino opposed to a countywide revaluation due to the cost – $80 million. In 1996, revaluation would habe cost the county and estimated $26 million.
In Westchester, municipalities do their own assessments and collection of taxes with the county having no role. When Andrew J. Spano was county executive, the county formed the Collaborative Assessment Commission to study whether the county should do revaluation, which led to The Oblique Aerial & Street Level Photography Project in 2010. The $1 million project made it easier for municipalities to get better aerial photographs of properties to assist in assessments.
In 1996, the county considered a countywide revaluation and a bill was approved in the state Senate and Assembly, though it was vetoed by Gov. George Pataki, who was swayed by last-minute lobbying efforts from the business community, including IBM Corp. and PepsiCo Inc.
Pataki in his veto message delivered in October 1996 said the revaluation bill “would have profound and perhaps devastating effects on local economies, because of the onerous tax burden it imposes on local businesses. This bill would challenge the ability of small businesses throughout the county to keep their doors open and would codify serious inequities in the tax rates.”
George Oros, chief of staff to Astorino, said that while the county will not directly be involved, they would offer assistance if necessary.
“Getting the county involved is not necessarily a good thing,” Oros said. “The county will provide whatever resources we have or any kind of data we’ve gathered, but the authority and responsibility rest with local municipalities.”
While municipalities claim that revaluation will reduce tax certioraris, Jeffrey Rodner, a tax attorney that specializes in certioraris for the White Plains law firm Gellert and Rodner, does not believe it will have much of an impact.
“It’s a crapshoot,” Rodner said. “It depends whether the firms that are hired are accurate in their estimates. There are always people going to be grieving.”
Rodner said that revaluation will raise prices on older homes and will cause senior residents to pay higher property taxes.
“Revaluation will shift the burden from newer homes to older homes,” Rodner said. “These homes haven’t been assessed in years; there is a significant amount of appreciation since they were last valued. What kind of burden do you want to put on your elderly residents?”
Amy Allen, managing director of advocacy and international business for the Westchester County Association, said the issue was a hot potato and that municipalities need to be more forthcoming about the cost.
“We sat with a group of municipal officials and every time we asked what the actual cost would be, we got stymied,” Allen said. “I’d like to see what the plan would look like before offering an opinion. Yes in concept, but it depends on how you get there.”
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