by Barrett Seaman
The first week in June was promising to be an anxious one for thousands of Greenburgh and Ossining homeowners who had appealed reassessments promulgated by Tyler Technologies last March. The week was sure to vex another 400 in Greenburgh who were to receive unexpected notices that they had been identified as being underassessed, and that their projected 2017 property taxes would thus be going up.
While the review process leading to these re-valuations was not complete by press time, Supervisor Paul Feiner and Town As- sessor Edye McCarthy had told various village officials that they expected roughly 40 percent of those who had appealed would win back at least some reduction.
In mid-May, Irvington Mayor Brian Smith and resident Brian Friedman met with Feiner and McCarthy to present the results of an analysis Friedman had done of more than 800 properties within the Ir- vington School District alone, using various measures, including comparisons of Tyler’s numbers with actual recent sales prices, the best measure of a property’s value. For more than a third of these, he found “valuations that appeared to be either materially over- assessed or materially under-assessed,” the mayor later wrote in a message to village residents. “Neither [Brian Friedman] nor I could say definitively if they are incorrect but we thought that they were worth further study. I am happy to report that both Mr. Feiner and Ms. McCarthy agreed with us and pledged to review our reports with the Town Assessing Staff, Tyler and the monitor.”
In his message, Smith also reiterated the Irvington board’s support for proposed legislation that would allow Greenburgh and Ossining to adopt a phase-in of assessment increases over a three-year period. Ossining Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, who chairs the Real Property committee in Albany through which such legislation must pass, and State Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, along with their staffs, spent much of May drafting a bill to that effect. As it was to be presented to the legislature in Albany and in public hearings to follow, the bill would:
• apply to 1, 2 or 3 family residential homes—and perhaps over time to condominiums and co-ops, should a community choose to adopt the Homestead Act that would tax all residences on the same basis;
• apply only to those homeowners eligible for the STAR tax relief program, which would exclude those earning more than $500,000 annually;
• apply only to owners whose names appear on the reassessment rolls, meaning that if the property were sold or transferred to a new owner subsequent to the reassessment, it would not be eligible;
• require a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) for the home;
• apply only to those whose valuation had increased at least 25% over previous assessments;
• require interior inspections for those homes that had not previously been inspect- ed by Tyler or that exhibited building code violations, or had had physical improvements that would influence the property’s market value. The value of those improvements would be deducted from the amount eligible for relief.
As drafted, the bill would have participating homeowners pay a third of their increase the first year, two-thirds in the second year and taxes based on the fully reassessed value in the third year.
While those whose assessments went down will not have their reductions phased in directly, the tax revenue lost to the phase- in will be spread out over all other taxpayers, in order to maintain revenue neutrality. “What that does to the rest of the taxpayers we don’t know yet,” Abinanti said.
The new bill is written so as to allow Greenburgh and Ossining to adopt the phase-in but also to apply to any Westchester County community that undergoes re- assessment in the future. This feature is de- signed as an inducement to reassess so that all valuations throughout the county will be current. To that same end, according to Smith, Feiner and McCarthy, they would not wait another five years to reassess in the Township but would be reviewing sales figures and other data on an ongoing basis in an effort to reach parity.
Another feature under consideration is an increase from $35,000 to $50,000 in the maximum annual earnings senior citizens (65+) could have in order to be exempt from a reassessment-induced tax hike.
The phase-in bill’s biggest obstacle is time. When the draft bill was finally written, the state legislature had only three weeks before the scheduled June 17 adjournment. If the phase-in is to affect 2017 taxes, it must win approval by three committees in Albany, pass both houses and get signed into law by the governor. “We’re going to try to push to get the governor to sign it,” said Galef, while acknowledging that there are hoops to jump through before that happens. Added Abinanti, “It is not an insurmountable task, but it is a challenge.”
There are those who doubt the phase-in will ever happen. One is Irvington resident Anthony Saraniti, a longtime advocate for reassessment. In a letter to Smith and the Irvington board, Saraniti advised them not to “look to the NYS Legislature to carve out an extension of the Real Property Tax Law for the Town of Greenburgh that has two chances of coming to fruition: slim and none.”
Saraniti instead called upon Feiner and the Greenburgh board to rescind their previous vote and adopt the Homestead Act. If they did so, he wrote, “all homeowners would finally pay their fair share of property taxes … the uniform rate of taxation would go down, thus easing the financial burden for those taxpayers facing significant increases in property taxes, especially the senior citi- zens on fixed income.”
Whether or not the phase-in passes or Greenburgh reconsiders the Homestead Act, homeowners still unhappy with their reassessments have two more chances to win a reprieve. The first is to file a formal appeal by June 21 and be prepared to justify their claim to a lower assessment before a Board of Assessment Review over the course of the summer. Failing that, they can take their case to Small Claims Court in the fall.