MAHOPAC, N.Y.— The first phase of the assessment appeal process has wrapped up and town officials say approximately 900 property owners met with Vision Government Solutions—the town’s revaluation vendor—for an informal meeting in an effort to get their assessments reduced.
The last four Town Board meetings have been packed with angry homeowners—primarily ones with lakefront property—some who say their assessments have more than doubled in the wake of the revaluation, leaving them with untenable tax bills that will force them from their homes.
While the threat of class action lawsuits looms, many are also taking advantage of the assessment grievance process, which began last month with the informal meetings. Homeowners will learn what the results of those meetings are around May 1 when they receive a notice in the mail.
“Nine hundred met with Vision and I believe a good majority of those [assessments] are going to come down,” Supervisor Ken Schmitt said at last week’s board meeting. “If you’re still not satisfied, [assessor Glenn Droese] is the next step. You have to go through the process.”
Droese said after homeowners get their May 1 notice from Vision, if they are still unhappy with the assessment, they can stop by the assessor’s office, or make an appointment, and meet with him or one of his staff. Droese said that needs to be done before May 23, because that is when the Board of Assessment Review convenes, which is the third step in the grievance process—a step taxpayers can take if they are still not satisfied after meeting with the assessor’s office.
Schmitt noted the Board of Assessment Review is totally autonomous and doesn’t answer to the Town Board.
Droese said taxpayers need to fill out an application to appear before the Board of Assessment Review, and those can be found online on the town’s website.
Some in the audience at last week’s meeting asked Droese what they should bring to a meeting with him or one of his staff members if they decide to take that route.
“You should bring comps, sales of houses in your neighborhood similar to yours,” he said. “Bring the inventory of house, pictures of interiors, problems it may have, appraisals, like from a bank refinance. We will see if we can come to an agreement on value.”
Even though the grievance process is moving toward, many residents who were hit with substantial increases in the property assessments and resulting tax bill remain angry, confused and emotional. At last week’s meeting, once again a parade of taxpayers came to the podium to rail against the revaluation project and implored the board to do something or they would lose their homes.
Mahopac resident Joel Rosow read from a letter he wanted to be put into the record.
“Most basic principles under our nation’s laws are fairness and equal treatment for all. Your proposed tax increases are neither fair nor just,” Rosow told the board. “Proposing in the name of fairness to bring all residential properties to 100 percent of fair market value is wrong and probably illegal. It’s morally wrong to do something in the name of justice, which harms a substantial number of people in Mahopac.
“This is being done in the misguided and erroneous notion that what you are doing is fair because you are lowering some people’s taxes,” he continued. “But any increase in excess of 7 percent is ridiculous and unjust. There needs to be an annual cap on all tax increases. If you go forward, you will essentially be taking people’s life savings earned over many years of hard work to pay for this increase. Is this fair and just?”
Some in the audience said as many as seven homes along South Lake Boulevard, past Mahopac Marina, have been put up for sale since the reval project was completed, with one audience member saying that is just “the tip of the iceberg.”
Mahopac Point resident Margherita Chirurgi accused the Town Board of being insensitive and turning a deaf ear to the situation in which the homeowners on the Point find themselves.
“I feel none of you have done anything for us; [you haven’t] addressed the issue,” she said. “I don’t hear any passion. You say you have empathy for us. I don’t see any group effort being put into this. We are left to wait till May 1 [when the notices from the informal meetings are mailed]. We are hanging on by a string.”
Chirurgi asked if the board has studied the numbers closely and discussed them with the town assessor. Councilman John Lupinacci said board members have been working weekends, meeting in shifts with Droese to help find solutions. But, he said, in the end it’s up to Droese to decide what to do with the new assessment and the Town Board has little say. He did note that while 900 homeowners have gone through the informal meetings and another 3,000 to 4,000 have undergone field reviews.
“We can’t tell [Droese] to lower this property or that property,” Lupinacci said. “We are doing everything we can do by law. I don’t think [some of the assessments are] fair and I have challenged a lot of numbers.”
Lupinacci said that by law, the Town Board can’t get involved in the revaluation process, other than to hire the vendor to facilitate its execution.
“There is segregation of duties,” he explained. “I don’t drive around with (building inspector) Mike Carnaza doing building inspections; I don’t sit with (highway superintendent) Mike Simone and say you are going to pave this road or that road; you don’t write your tax check to anyone on this town board, you write it to (tax collector) Kathleen Kraus. I do not sit with [the assessor] and say you are going to [value] this property at this [amount]. You need segregation of duties. If you don’t have it, think about the political mayhem you could have. It’s against the law.”
But Mahopac Point homeowner Jim Libby was unimpressed.
“Haven’t you shirked your fiduciary duties to this town and to the citizens for whom you are raising our appraisals, our taxes, 150 percent?” he asked. “Don’t you feel any shame in that or any responsibility or any culpability? Isn’t this actionable?”
Lupinacci said the problem lies in the fact that the town hasn’t performed a reval in 21 years.
“It is the Town Board’s fault and when I say the Town Board, I am talking about the town boards for the last 15 years,” he told Libby.
Schmitt echoed Lupinacci, saying the blame falls on the many town boards over the past two decades.
“The town took long to do it; it should have been done years ago,” he said. “Waiting so long is the direct result of what we are experiencing right now. Why it wasn’t done, I don’t know, but I can surmise. They didn’t want to do it; it’s called kicking the can down the road. The reason we did it is because it was absolutely the right thing to do. We did the right thing. The reval had to get done.”
Schmitt said he and the board knew the reval would anger some residents, but they had no idea it would be to this extent.
“We knew going in at least a third of the residents were going to be unhappy with it, but we never assumed it to this level. I feel terrible that some homeowners have suffered the way their numbers have gone up. It would have been half of that if this was done 10 years ago. I know that’s not a lot of solace.”