MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The Town Hall meeting room overflowed with angry property owners last week who came to protest what they considered an untenable hike in their taxes in the wake of a townwide revaluation.
“Basically, you handed me an eviction letter,” said Elisa Grotto, who lives on Mahopac Point.
Many who came to the March 8 meeting said that part of the problem is the town undervalued utility properties, singling out those owned by New York City.
“The sewer plant on Route 6, owned by New York City, was paying about $500,000 [in taxes]. Then they upgraded it by about $12 to $14 million,” said Mike Barile, a Mahopac businessman and developer who announced last month his intention to run for a seat on the Town Board. “[After the revaluation], the taxes were reduced by about 50 percent to the tune of $248,000. It is obvious that this board has made a decision it’s not going to fight New York City because [they think] they’re going to lose. They are not going to fight for our fair share of the tax money from New York City.”
Barile said his analysis of the revaluation shows that 88.3 percent of the category labeled “Other” is made up of the properties belonging to the City of New York and he contends the city’s property valuation is now down 27.3 percent.
Joe Schultz, an 18-year resident of the town who recently purchased lakefront property, said he believes the town backed away from confronting the city because it’s easier to pass the tax burden on to homeowners.
“I feel the town has avoided going after the city because of the complications of going down the legal path for that,” Schultz said. “So, you go after the homeowner because it’s easier to divide and conquer us. If I am going to go bankrupt anyway, I might as well spend…money on lawyers fighting you.”
Councilman John Lupinacci said Carmel would likely lose a court battle with the city.
“If they would win in court, then what happens?” he asked. “To change the reval on the utilities would not be the answer. The answer is we have to challenge the way [taxes are] done. Go up to Albany and change the process. We need to fight and look for change.”
The property categories hardest hit by dramatic increases in property values appears to be lakefront homes and condominiums. If that stands, Barile contended, it would have dire consequences for the town.
“Do you realize those are the town’s two biggest draws—the affordability of the condos and the beauty of the lakes—and you’ve killed them?” he said. “You’ve ended the two biggest draws we have here in Mahopac.”
Marie Frenkel, who lives on the peninsula on Lake Mahopac, said valuations in her neighborhood went up more than 100 percent.
“Some [equalized values] are even up over 200 percent,” she said. “I am not sure where they got their numbers from because houses [on the lake] are not selling. Some have been on the market for over a year and are not selling. I am curious where they got their values. Maybe they thought this was Carmel, Calif., and not Carmel, N.Y.”
Frenkel said she wants to see how Vision Government Solutions (VGS), the vendor hired by the town for the project, calculated the revaluations. But she hasn’t gotten much cooperation from the town or the company.
“We want a database,” she said. “It would be interesting to see where the numbers went up and where the numbers went down. But to make it so hard for us to get it isn’t right.”
Schultz, who said he bought his lake house just eight weeks ago and saw his taxes double after the revaluation, also wants to see how the figures were calculated.
“I would like to be able to reassess the numbers but now I have eight weeks to do it [before the tax rolls are officials],” he said. “Provide us a clear analysis of how you came up with the figures. Let the community come together and decide if the calculations were done correctly. It seems you specifically targeted the lake. I don’t believe your numbers.”
Lupinacci agreed that a more transparent process is necessary and said he would work to make that happen.
“I created an Excel database and I will see if we have the capacity to put it on our website,” he said. “I will talk to the assessor and the board. It is public knowledge.”
Homeowners have several recourses in the coming weeks to try to change their new assessments, including meeting with VGS; meeting with the town assessor; filing a grievance with Board of Assessment Review; and filing a claim with the Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR).
Councilman Jonathan Schneider said that if a homeowner believes their property was inaccurately assessed, a meeting with VGS is the time to correct it.
“Bring in comparable [properties recently sold in the neighborhood,” he said. “If you have a steep slope, absolutely [talk about it]— whatever is special to your property that would decrease what the value is worth.”
Edye McCarthy, the town’s reassessment monitor, said the more information homeowners bring to these meetings, the better.
“If you don’t think you can sell your property for that 2017 [valuation], then bring it to the attention of Vision Government Solutions first, then the assessor,” she said. “If Vision has a condition on your property that you don’t [agree with], then bring that to their attention.”
Margharita Chirurgi, another Mahopac Point resident, said she agrees that lake properties seemed to be hit the hardest, but she also worries about the businesses located nearby.
“What will happen to all the restaurants and all the dry cleaners…any business?” she said. “They will all go out of business. You will have a town that is dead. It’s a town that was finally coming to life and you’ve taken it upon yourself to destroy that. We are heartbroken.”
Some audience members asked the Town Board to impose a moratorium on adopting the reval numbers until a more thorough vetting of the calculations is done.
“[What] goes on the rolls is up to the assessor,” said town attorney Greg Folchetti. “The board could recommend doing something else, but the final determination is with the assessor. It is enjoined upon him by law to enter the values on the rolls in the manner he sees fits.”
Assessor Glenn Droese said he felt the numbers provided by VGS were solid and he had no problem with them.
“The statistics that we are seeing in regard to sales and assessment ratios are good,” he said. “The majority of the town is correctly assessed at fair market value. Everything looks good so far.”
However, some Town Board members expressed concerned over what they heard at the meeting.
“I am not happy,” said Councilwoman Suzy McDonough. “When we started the reval, the intention was to make it fair. When we got the numbers I was a little more than shocked. We will work this out. I don’t know how, but somehow we will.”
Supervisor Ken Schmitt promised to sit down with the Town Board and its consultants to take a second look at the numbers and examine the way they were calculated.
“I clearly have heard you tonight. I understand where you are coming from,” Schmitt told the crowd. “I am not comfortable with the results that I am seeing. We are going to look at every option before we implement this. We need to go back to the table and rethink it. Everyone who spoke here tonight, I agree with you. There are inconsistencies.”