THE PROPERTY ASSESSMENT INCREASES - by Maria Sexton
I. The Problem
II. The Disturbing Discovery
III. The Assessment Increases
IV. The Truth About the Town’s Arguments
V. My Plan
VI. Addendum: The Data
I. THE PROBLEM:
The Vestal Town Supervisor and Town Council have raised property assessments once again. This is the third increase in 4 years (2020, 2022 and now 2023). The result is a drastic increase in property assessments. Property assessments are used to determine how much tax you will have to pay, for both school and local taxes. The higher the assessment, the higher your tax burden.
A Look at Fairness:
Whenever you assess an issue, the first thing that you must do is look at the reality. I took a look at a sample of houses to see:
1) How much the assessments were raised.
2) If the increases seemed to be fairly distributed.
Note - It is important to note that my review did not consider the question of whether each assessment reflects the actual condition of the house. That is an entirely different (and important) issue, that also needs to be addressed.
While far from a scientific study, I looked at a representative sample of houses in order to get a sense of the situation.
I picked streets at random trying to select streets indicative of different areas within Vestal. They included all different types of houses (large, small, planned developments, unplanned areas, etc.) in all different locations (rural, suburban, north, east, etc.). I looked at 90 houses, on 9 streets, for the duration of two of the three property assessment adjustments.
The increases from 2019 until 2020 could not be included because the data could not be obtained.
See the charts below (in the addendum).
II. THE DISTURBING DISCOVERY:
My review clearly showed:
There were large differences in the assessment increases (by percentage) between areas.
The differences were clearly planned and purposeful.
The streets with less expensive houses/land received the greatest increases, by percentage (about a 53% increase).
The streets with houses/land worth in the median received hefty increases, by percentage (about 35%).
The streets with the most expensive houses/land received lesser increases, by percentage (27%).
There were apparent clerical errors. In a few places there were houses (near each other) that had the exact same assessment (for 3 years) yet were markedly different. Ex/ One house had 4 ½ acres of land, the other 8 acres and had different size houses, yet their assessments were exactly the same for each of the three years.
A few houses did not receive increases during one reassessment period.
The tax increases were actually higher. This review only includes the 2022 and now 2023 increases. The 2020 increases could not be included because the data wasn’t available.
And this is just a very small sampling. What occurred in the rest of Vestal?
Individual irregularities are one thing, widespread, planned unequal treatment is something else. It is unacceptable.
III. THE ASSESSMENT INCREASES:
The Three Increases:
1) The 2020 Increase:
The Town asserted that the increases were necessary because there hadn’t been a reassessment since 2009 and the assessments were out of date. Although no one likes tax increases, it sounded reasonable.
2) The 2022 Increase:
The Town blamed the housing mayhem for the 2022 increase, asserting that all the houses were worth much more. The Town, however, did not have to reassess anything, they chose to do it. They used the housing mayhem as an excuse.
Even worse, they chose to make the increase during a time when Covid and economic extremes were still prevalent. It was still a time of uncertainty, severe inflation, supply shortages, job insecurities and (for many) food and housing insecurities. Yet, they chose to increase taxes.
Unfortunately, they were not done.
3) The 2023 Increase:
The 2023 increases are, once again, substantial. They are arguing that it’s due to the ongoing housing situation. First, they don’t have to raise assessments, they are choosing to. Second, it is not correct. The prices of houses are back to reasonable levels.
IV. THE TRUTH ABOUT THEIR ARGUMENTS:
The Town has asserted many arguments in defense of the property assessment increases. Some are designed to confuse people, while others are blatantly false. All are meant to convince people that there isn’t anything that they can do about it. The following are the actual facts.
Their Argument - #1:
The housing market is going crazy and house prices are insane, therefore they have to increase your assessment.
The Town never has to raise assessments based on the extremes of a housing market. They made a choice to do it.
Their Argument - #2:
Your assessment may not increase your taxes.
Your taxes (both local and school taxes) are based on your assessment. The higher your assessment, the higher your tax levy. Whether local/school taxes go up, stay the same or even decrease, you will pay more with a higher assessment than you would before the increase.
Their Argument - #3:
The housing market is still out of control because there is a shortage of houses, therefore we are increasing it again.
The house prices in the area have leveled out. Most people that were looking to sell their house (and could) did so when the prices were skyrocketing. The people who are selling now are finding that (largely due to the increased mortgage rates) people will not pay the same outrageous prices. The price of recent house sales in the area bears that out.
Their Argument - #4:
If you have damage or an ongoing issue with your house, it does not affect its assessment.
The condition of your house (due to floods, inherent problems, lack of upgrades, etc.) affects how much people will pay to buy your house. It, therefore, directly affects the assessment. The assessment is (or at least is supposed to be) the fair market value of the house.
Their Argument - #5:
The Town’s assessment of your house is correct and there isn’t any use trying to fight it. You won’t win.
The assessment of your house is required to be accurate. Individuals can, and do, contest their assessment through the courts and have their assessment reduced by a court ruling or by a pre-hearing settlement.
V. Our Plan
1) The recent reassessments ordered by Schaffer and the Town Board have put us in a bad situation that is not easily corrected. Glenn, Robert and I are committed, though, to ensuring that they are lowered as much as possible, as quickly as possible.
Reassessments, when done, must be at full market value. They cannot arbitrarily be lowered. As such, our hands are tied in what we will be able to do. We will conduct reassessments strategically, reassessing as the housing market goes down and never conduct reassessments if the housing market goes up. We will reassess (down), as quickly as the housing market allows.
2) We will consider the property assessment grievances to ensure that each person receives a fair review of their situation. If their house is substantially over assessed, they could file a request for a hearing. They would have to prove that it is over assessed. If they are correct, and the assessment is inaccurate, the assessment would be lowered. No one should have to go through the expense (and aggravation) of a court proceeding to get their house fairly assessed. They should have the opportunity for a fair review.
In order to make real changes, we need the votes in the Town Council.
Please vote for Glenn and Robert.
VI. Addendum: The Data
Note – The assessment increases from 2019 until 2020 could not be included because the information was not available. The charts only reflect the increases in 2022 and 2023.