Greenburgh Reassessment Debate Roils On as Deadlines Loom

by Barrett Seaman

The shock waves from Tyler Technologies’ reassessment—especially in some of Greenburgh’s more prosperous enclaves—continued to reverberate throughout the month of April.

Aggrieved homeowners, some of whose taxes are scheduled to rise by $30,000 or more, continued to question the validity of the process. Some threatened lawsuits; others called for a one-year freeze on the process until disputes were resolved. There are calls for adoption of the Homestead Act, under which condominiums and coops, currently enjoying lower taxes than comparable single-family homes, would be taxed on the same basis, as well as renewed complaints about profligate spending by municipalities and school boards.

A very active online forum, Greenburgh Residents for Fair Taxation, sprang to life on Facebook. The Mayor and Trustees of Irvington joined the Edgemont Community Council in calling for implementation of a five-year phase-in of taxes under a 1982 state law, §1904. Meanwhile, some 4,000 property-owners signed up for the informal meetings with Tyler representatives to appeal their reassessments.

On the receiving end of this wave of protests were Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and Assessor Edye McCarthy, who spent the month traveling from village to village, holding meetings with groups ranging from one to 300. On April 13, they led a symposium at Greenburgh Town Hall, where the Tyler team explained the complex algorithms used to assess properties.

Later, the full Town Council held a hearing on the 1904 phase-in proposal. In a lengthy public comment session that followed, proponents argued that the Council could and should invoke the law, while opponents argued that it would unfairly withhold reductions for those whose taxes were going down. State and local officials contended that implementing it would threaten the State aid that would derive from achieving 100 percent assessment. The issue was tabled that night, but by the time the Council was to take it up again on April 27, 1904 was already dead in the water.

In its place, Feiner offered a new plan: a three-year phase-in of tax increases only, thus allowing homeowners whose taxes were scheduled to go down to obtain immediate relief when the reassessments go into effect a year from now.

The phase-in would apply to one, two or three-family primary residences already receiving the state’s STAR tax relief program. It would require an on-site inspection, and it would be cancelled as soon as the property was transferred (sold).

In an interview, Feiner touted the three-year phase-in as a “thought-out and sensible proposal. It’s a home rule request that won’t cost them (the State) any money. All they have to do is pass it and leave the implementation to us.”

The phase-in will need passage by the legislature in Albany. To that end, Feiner has enlisted the support of State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assemblyman Tom Abinanti and Ossining Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, who chairs the committee through which the bill must pass. With only six weeks left in the legislative session this year, there are doubts that the bill could make it through in time. Asked what its chances are, Galef said: “I can’t tell you that it’s going to work, but we’re going to try.”

One of Feiner’s longtime opponents, Edgemont’s Bob Bernstein, doubts the State will help—ever. “The chances of getting State legislators to pass a property tax mitigation alternative solely for the Town of Greenburgh is virtually nil,” he wrote. “The Town last year couldn’t even get authorization from Albany to enact a hotel tax.”

Absent some form of mitigation, those facing tax hikes still have two more shots at relief. With the last of the informal appeals occurring on May 7, Tyler will be revising their numbers. Appealing homeowners will hear how they fared during the first week in June. If they still don’t like what they see, they can make an appointment with the Assessor’s Office for another appeal. They then have until June 21st to file a formal grievance. Final numbers will lock in in mid-September, and can be challenged thereafter only in small claims court.

Those who have appealed expect a reply, but according to McCarthy, an undetermined number whom officials believe were under-assessed will be getting an unwelcome surprise in early June.

McCarthy is currently reviewing some 500 properties to see if their taxes should go up more. Some have been fingered by neighbors who suspect they were low-balled in the first round. Others are showing up in a check of neighborhoods for low-side outliers. McCarthy is also checking real estate listings to see if a home is on the market for substantially more than what it was assessed for.

McCarthy is confident that when the numbers have been adjusted, the vast majority will come to accept their new taxes, and real estate values will not tumble as a result of tax capitalization. She points to nearby communities like Scarsdale, Bronxville and Mamaroneck that have undergone recent reassessments after a long interlude.

Gerry Iagallo, her predecessor as Greenburgh Assessor, now in the same role in Bronxville, confirms that. When Tyler reassessed there in 2007 after a 30-year hiatus, there were plenty of homeowners, some with tax increases of $20 or $30 thousand, who were “shook up.” Many appealed, arguing the approach was flawed; seven or eight percent grieved; some went all the way to small claims. But home values did not go down as a result. “The decrease just never happened, “ he says.

The Larchmont Manor section of Mamaroneck Township has many graceful old homes that got hit with large revaluations when Mamaroneck underwent reassessment five years ago. “We thought prices were going to get soft,” recalls Julia B. Fee realtor Cary Sleeper. “But today, the Manor is as hot as ever.”

Scarsdale’s experience was not as sanguine. Jason Wilson, manager of the Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty Scarsdale brokerage, said that after the revaluation went into effect in 2015 the inventory of homes of $2.5 million and up increased by 25% because of tax increases on those homes.

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