by Barrett Seaman
The couple, independent writer/actors, had moved from Brooklyn to Irvington because the public school system would cover much of the cost of educating their special needs child. They bought a cozy 1,200-square-foot house on one of Irvington’s side streets and settled into the life of the village. “We’re part of the community. I do lots of volunteer work,” she said. “But now I don’t know how we’re going to stay here—or how we’re going to sell this place.”
Reason for the sudden change in plans: first, the school system told them their child’s special needs were not severe enough to qualify for assistance, so they had to switch to a costly private program. Then in the last week of March came the coup de grace—a projected bump in their property taxes from $8,546 to $14,125, a 65% increase.
An older couple, long-time residents of Ardsley Park, were shocked when they opened the notice from Tyler Technologies and saw that their home had been appraised at over $3.5 million, with an accompanying tax hike from the mid $30,000s to over $100,000-a-year. They were hoping to sell it for maybe $1.5 million.
Several blocks away, Tyler pegged a home that had sold only last fall for $1,674,000 at $1,798,000. Yet elsewhere in Irvington, Tyler assessed a two-family house that had only last year been appraised by a bank at $850,000 at a mere $475,000, triggering a hefty drop in projected taxes.
When the Greenburgh reassessment project was launched last year, it was precisely these kinds of anomalies that were seen as justification for re-balancing the tax rolls that had not been updated in more than 60 years. The point was to restore “rhyme and reason” to property taxes, but if the initial Tyler estimates hold up, at least in Irvington, there will simply be a new mix of anomalies.
According to Greenburgh Assessor Edye McCarthy, only 6,000 of the 18,000 households in the township went up in taxes. With an aggregate increase of 18%–the highest in the township, Irvington homeowners have reason to feel they are taking the brunt of the re-balancing.
Brian Friedman, a village resident, looked at 67 reassessments of houses that had sold since the beginning of 2015—a pretty good indication of the real market value Tyler was supposed to be aiming for. He found 29 under-assessed by at least $100,000 or 10% and 14 whose assessments exceeded sales price by that amount. “While some people may have overpaid or underpaid for their house,” Friedman posted on Facebook, “I find it hard to believe that 66% of the buyers did so. If Tyler did not get 2015 correct, what confidence can we have in the process?”
“After 60 years, I imagined that there would be significant pain with the reassessment,” said Irvington Mayor Brian Smith. “Unfortunately it seems that is the case. The key is that we have to have confidence in the final reassessment numbers.”
Smith has been asked by Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner to join a task force to explore ways to mitigate the effects of the reassessment and has indicated support for the idea of applying the increases incrementally over five years. But Smith admits: “This is a very tough issue with no easy fixes. Sixty years of neglect has that effect.”
Irvington resident Michael Bryant, a real estate broker and an attorney who offers his services in tax appeals, says he has already fielded hundreds of calls from distressed homeowners. There are two categories hit hardest, he observes: “Those who have more land, and those who live in previously favored tax locations” (such as Irvington’s village side streets). “They are getting slammed because the municipalities have either looked the other way or taken pains to keep taxes low in order to keep those areas vital.”
Those with large plots of land have been hard hit because Tyler apparently viewed every piece as a buildable lot, surmises Bryant. One case he knows of had their valuation jump from $1.5 million to $3.3 million without reference to the value of the house. “I have a number of clients whose taxes have gone up from $28,00 to $29,000 to $70,000.”
One Barney Park resident calculated that Tyler had appraised the land on which his modest house sits as worth $3.1 million-per-acre, which was, the owner pointed out, “not related to any true land value in Irvington.”
Not everyone owning expensive homes was hit with big increases. Those living in Legend Hollow, an upscale enclave of $1.5 to $2 million homes built in the mid-nineties, either got modest increases or none at all. One, Anthony Saraniti, who led the call over the past two years for the kind of reassessment that just took place, got a $99 decrease in his tax bill. But he had started at $54,000 more than a decade ago and successfully filed a certiorari appeal that got it down to $45,000. He calculates that had he not challenged the assessment, he’d now be looking at a $76,000 annual bill. Once paying tens of thousands more than comparably valued houses in Ardsley Park, he is now below what owners of those older homes will be charged.
Saraniti has no sympathy for those he says have been under-taxed for years and believes that there are still some who are paying well below what they would be if the real market value of their houses had been applied. Nor does he share the pain of prosperous families that moved up from New York City and gentrified what had been working class homes on the village’s side streets. “This is what it costs to live in a place like Irvington,” he maintains.
In addition to the new valuations, it is the tax equalization rate applied to those values that troubles many whose numbers have gone up. Previously, says Hilary Chenel an Irvington real estate broker and a member of the village’s Planning Board, each municipality in the Town had its own equalization rate. Irvington’s was 2.65%; Edgemont was 2.61%, and so on. The Tyler calculations for Irvington show an equalization rate for residences of 3.09%, which, according to Chenel, is the same as the commercial rate.
“To me this entire exercise seems very arbitrary [done by] hourly workers who did not know a thing about this area or market,” said Chenel. “I work in real estate. I value houses every single day. And these valuations are so out of line and so far from market reality. I am so enraged that a government body could be so negligent in their oversight and approach and cause so many people irreparable harm. I am just sick over this.”
She is not alone. “There are long-time residents who are going to lose homes if this stands as it is,” one resident posted on a Facebook page created to address the reassessment issue. “I realize that it is a Greenburgh-wide issue, but our little burgh needs to confront this. We need to bring Paul Feiner in as well as experts who can guide people as to how to proceed, We can’t become a town of one economic category and lose mainstays of our community.”
Tyler’s letter to homeowners invited those who felt their values had been miscalculated to make an appointment by April 8 to appeal. Several of those who got in before April 1 generally felt that the Tyler representative had listened and made careful note of their objections. The system provides that if they are still not satisfied, they may file a more formal grievance before June 21.
Read related story “Unhappy Irvington Residents Hear Out Greenburgh’s Feiner and McCarthy“