MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Residents of the lakefront community Mahopac Point believe that they and other lakefront property owners were singled out by the revaluation project and saddled with inaccurate assessments and untenable tax hikes.
Mahopac Point resident Jim Libby said it was a calculated move.
“I think they found a population of people they think they can milk for a lot of money because we live on the lake,” he said. “I think it was calculated. But we are not going away. There is going to be a class-action lawsuit if that is what it takes. Everyone is willing to contribute to get good lawyers to bust this out.”
Here’s an up-close look at Libby and two of his neighbors and the challenges they now face in the wake of the revaluation project.
Gertrude ‘Doty’ Ryan
Doty Ryan is 88 years old and has lived in her Sycamore Road home on Mahopac Point since 1961. The old house was built nearly 100 years ago and sits on .37 -acre lot on the lake.
“I always thought I would spend my final days here,” Ryan said. “But I might have to leave my house and that’s heartbreaking.”
Prior to the townwide revaluation, Ryan’s house was assessed at $350,000. Now, the new assessment says its worth $1.2 million. As a result, her taxes will double from $20,000 to $40,000 and she doesn’t understand how that happened.
“When the assessor came, the first thing he said was, ‘This house is old!’” Ryan said with a laugh. “He said this place hasn’t had much work done on it since it was built. I told him we never had the money to do anything to it.”
Ryan taught in the Mahopac School District for 30 years before retiring in 1994.
“I taught first, second and third grade,” she said. “I taught [Supervisor] Ken Schmitt and [Councilman] John Lupinacci.”
Ryan said if her assessment stands, she will likely have to sell her house and move upstate and stay with her son. But even that plan is problematic.
“If every house on the Point and around the lake goes on sale, you won’t find a lot of buyers,” she said.
Ryan said in all her years teaching, she never once sent a student to the principal’s office. Now, she says, she feels like she’s being sent there.
“We have to fight it somehow and I want to be part of that,” she said. “But, no, I’m not too optimistic we’ll win.”
Jim Libby, 73, and his wife, Patricia, have owned their home on Mahopac Point for 37 years. Their 92-year-old colonial features five bedrooms and 2,268 square feet of living space.
Prior to the revaluation it had a market value of $375,000. Now it’s set at $1.3 million.
“My taxes will go from $8,000 to $38,000,” Libby said. “That’s an extra three grand a month.”
Libby is retired and his wife will retire next year. Libby said she was devastated when they received their revaluation numbers and what it might mean.
“My wife cried for two days after we got that,” he said. “She didn’t know what to do. She literally wept for two solid days. She never lived in a house of her own until we bought this. Her family lived in apartments. So she loves this house.”
Will the Libbys have to sell if their revaluation numbers hold up?
“We haven’t gotten that far yet but I think we would consider it,” he said. “But if I had to put that house on the market, it’s not going to sell for a million-three. We would probably take a bath.”
Libby said they don’t want to leave. They cherish the neighborhood and their children and grandchildren love to visit.
“I have six grandchildren and they love the lake. It’s what keeps us here,” he said. “We can have our whole family here. It is a gathering place.”
Libby is hard pressed to figure out why his property revaluation has changed so dramatically.
“There have been no changes to the house at all. It’s like it was; we just took great care of it,” he said. “We haven’t a fabulous remodel of the kitchen or changed the blueprint.”
For Elisa Grotto, her home on Mahopac Point is not just a house made of wood, glass and concrete. It’s a monument to a life she once had and symbol of her perseverance.
“My husband bought this property in 1988,” she explained. “We came up [from Yonkers] on weekends and fixed up the house. We got married in 1999 and then in 2000 I was widowed.”
Devastated by the loss of her husband, Grotto had some hard choices to make.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do. Do I sell the house? Do I keep it?” she said. “I was told not to keep the property, but I said no, I was going to keep it. My husband loved it; he loved the lake. It was a memory I wanted to keep.”
Grotto was determined to make it work. She was a teacher, and she worked to get her master’s degree and then a Ph.D., sometimes working two or three jobs. The more people told her owning and maintaining the house would be too much, the more resolute she was to prove them wrong.
“I worked hard to keep this house; it’s been my life,” she said. “I love it and I love the community. It’s like my family. Where would I go? I don’t know if I would find what I have found here.”
Grottos house, a two-bedroom bungalow built in 1920, had been assessed at $223,800. It jumped to $929,600. Her taxes are set to increase from $11,200 to $27,632.
“If nothing changes, it means I would have either file bankruptcy or try to sell but I won’t get what I need because my house is basically a tear-me-down. There is no way I could pay and it’s upsetting.”
Grotto doesn’t understand how the assessment could have increased so radically.
“It’s a steep slope and a lot of it’s unusable,” she said. “I have 42 steps to go down to get to the house on just .24 acres.”
Grotto said she will follow the grievance process that the town has laid out, but if she can’t find relief, she will join the class action lawsuit her neighbors are planning.
“We are going to fight,” she said. “This impacts everyone. We are not millionaires.”