MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Carmel town assessor Glenn Droese says the numbers from the recent revaluation project are accurate and he will place them on the tentative tax roll on May 1.
Droese made his position known at last week’s Town Board meeting (April 5) during another heated session in which angry residents expressed their dismay over the new assessments, many saying their tax bills would more than double and force them to sell their homes or face foreclosure.
But Droese said the state Department of Taxation and Finance has been following Carmel’s revaluation project closely since it began more than two years ago and believes that, overall, the new assessment numbers are accurate.
“The state has been working with me for the past couple of years and looking over my shoulder,” Droese said. “They are very detail-orientated. They have run analyses on our project many times and they feel that the project is good. I feel the project is good. I am going to sign the assessment role on May 1. We are not going backward; we are not delaying. That would cost the town a lot more money if we did that.”
During the course of the last three Town Board meetings, hundreds of property owners have come forward to complain about their new assessments. Many of them own homes on Lake Mahopac, which is considered premier property. Town officials note that it’s been 21 years since the last townwide revaluation and it’s not surprising the valuation of some of those premier properties experienced the greatest increases. They point out that more than 70 percent of Carmel/Mahopac properties either stayed the same or saw a decrease in their assessments.
“We have 13,000 properties in town; it is not just the lake communities,” Droese said. “We reviewed properties townwide.”
Droese conceded that not every property on the lake was assessed accurately, but said those could be corrected during a four-step grievance process, starting with informal meetings with Vision Government Solutions, the vendor that performed the revaluation. Those meetings have been taking place for the past several weeks.
“We found things that needed fixing. That’s part of the process,” he said. “That’s what the informal meetings are for. We gather information from those meetings and things get fixed. I believe this is a small group (that is complaining) compared to the 13,000 properties we have in the town.”
Droese said those who met with Vision to plead their cases will get their revision notices May 1. If they are still not satisfied, they can then meet with him or a staff member from the assessor’s office.
“That’s part of the procedure,” he said. “Every notice [with the new assessment numbers] that was sent out was a preliminary notice. It’s a work in progress.”
Still, there are many who say they are meeting with lawyers in anticipation of a class action lawsuit against the town if the revaluation numbers are not thrown out.
“There are a lot of people who aren’t here tonight for a very troubling reason,” said Charlie Melchner Sr., owner of Mahopac Marine. “They’ve decided they are hiring attorneys to sue the town. People are estimating it’s going to cost the town of Carmel a lot of money to fight this—a quarter million dollars they are talking about. And they are talking about the bad will that is going to happen between our community and our Town Board. Is it really worth it? Do we need to get it done now? The assessor is working off of numbers that a lot of people feel weren’t done properly. If we can’t work this without going to court, we have a bigger problem than a tax issue.”
Many in the crowd at last week’s meeting echoed Melchner’s sentiments and implored the Town Board to reject the revaluation project’s results, or at least delay placing them on the tax roll until the numbers could be vetted further.
However, board members and the town attorney, Greg Folchetti, noted that state law puts the responsibility on the town assessor to adopt the numbers and the Town Board can only make recommendations that hold no real power.
“Everyone is saying, let’s wait six more months,” Councilman John Lupinacci said.
“We can’t wait six more months. If [Droese] throws out the roll and says let’s delay it, it will have to become a full one-year delay. We start all over again. And when I say ‘all over again’ [I mean it] unless Vision did something grossly wrong.”
But there were some in the crowd who contended that, indeed, “gross errors” were made.
Dr. Saran Rosner said he met with Vision for his informal review and laid out several gross mistakes.
“They had my acreage wrong; [they] said I had a deck that didn’t exist, and said I had a permanent dock, which I don’t,” he told the board. “I have a seasonal dock that comes out [of the water].
“If they make these gross mistakes on my property what about the people whose taxes went down?” he continued. “Who is scrutinizing the gross mistakes that may have occurred in those assessments? No one. Those people aren’t going to come forward and say, ‘I have six fireplaces, you missed four.’ Those people aren’t showing up and they are falling through the cracks. If they can miss those things on my property, those mistakes are translated across thousands of other properties. How are we going to remedy that? I don’t see any solutions coming from the assessor or the Town Board.”
Mahopac resident Michelle Langus said she’s heard of other egregious errors on some revaluations.
“I have heard of people being taxed on inground pools that were filled in 20 years ago,” she said. “[I’ve heard about] basements in boat houses where there is no basement. There have been [cases] where a person got a picture of their property [with their revaluation] that was not their property. This entire reval is not accurate; there are discrepancies.”
Mahopac resident Margherita Chirurgi said that the number of alleged errors in the assessments is why some residents are talking lawsuit.
“There are a lot more gross errors than what you are hearing about in this room and that’s why we are talking about a lawsuit,” she said. “And there will be one (lawsuit) if this reval does not get thrown out. I understand you want us to go through the [grievance] process and we will continue to do that because it’s what we should do even if we do have a lawsuit. But I just don’t think that is going to change anything.”
Councilman Jonathan Schneider said the assessor’s office is spot checking properties for verification where the new assessments were flat or lower, but Rosner said that still won’t solve the problem.
“They would have to look at the sitemap for every property and make sure they got it right and that’s very time consuming,” Rosner said.
Some Town Board members said they are still considering the possibility of a phase-in option. That plan would help some homeowners who meet certain criteria to pay their tax bill over a three-year period and avoid facing a single crushing payment next fall.
However, such a plan would have to be authorized by both the state senate and assembly and then signed by the governor. Carmel would be just the third town in New York to do it. Greenburgh and Ossining utilized a phase-in option in the wake of their revaluations in 2015.
Schneider said the idea is still being considered, but worries there might not be enough time to get it done by the time the tax roll must be finalized on July 1. The legislature begins its summer break in June.
“I think it’s still on the table, but we are getting closer and closer to the deadline,” he said.
Councilman John Lupinacci said he, too, would like to see the phase-in option adopted, but noted that a very limited number of property owners would qualify. It is for residential homes only and they would have to have seen a 25 percent or higher increase in their revaluation. That increase in value could not be the result of something the homeowner did, such as a new addition. Additionally, the home must be STAR-eligible.
Lupinacci said the phase-in would only have a minor impact on the property owners who saw their valuations decrease or stay the same.
“They would only see an impact of about one cent on the dollar,” he said. “Yes, it’s a type of subsidy but this is what neighbors do for each other. It’s about making things right and putting things on an even playing field.”
Lupinacci said the homeowners who would benefit the most from a phase-in are those who live in the Williamsburg Ridge development. Their classification had been improperly filed as condominiums, but technically they did not qualify for that designation. The mistake was uncovered during this revaluation, which has resulted in a significant hike in their assessed values. Many Williamsburg residents have told the Town Board they won’t be able to remain there, but it will also be difficult to sell their units under the new classification.
“The Williamsburg Ridge residents have done nothing wrong,” Lupinacci said, “so this (a phase-in) would help them a lot.”