Do Lower Property Values = Lower Property Taxes? Not With Unfunded State Mandates, Villages Say

Huntington Bay administrators take a hard stance against tax grievance petitions. Lloyd Harbor Village has agreed to lower assessments for about 61 homes.

As the real estate market continues to seek a bottom, some residents of the 11743 zip code  seem to be hoping their property taxes would follow suit. Meanwhile elected officials say  local governments are being expected to do more with less.

At the Huntington Bay Village Board of Trustees meeting Monday, March 8, Village Attorney Mara Manin said that 32 tax grievance petitions had been filed.

Lynn Pincomb, the village administrator, said that that was "many more than usual." They normally get about "6 to 10" in a year and that a few of them this year "were looking for ridiculously low assessments—huge reductions. Some are asking for a 90 percent decrease in their taxes, which is not a rational claim. They should be denied." The burden of proof for assessments falls on the property owner, according to state law.

The Huntington Bay Village Board of Trustees acts as the assessment review board, explained Pincomb, and it is their job to consider any and all grievances filed and then make a determination about each one.

The board had a list of these homes, and as they were going over them, Dennis Gai, deputy mayor, said that one of these homes was the "biggest house in Bay Hills—a three-story house! Another is a $2 million home on the water."

"We're all going to end up paying for this," Manin said, "if their taxes get lowered."

Several of the board members wondered if the mayor should write a letter to the residents, explaining that if their taxes go down, the village will have to make up the difference in the new budget.

"I worry about this. My neighbors are all talking about this," Mayor Herb Morrow said. "And I don't want to leave this up to the [Town of Huntington]. They don't know Bay Hills and they don't care. They just want to get this crap off of their desks. These town workers are underpaid and overworked. We have to handle this ourselves."

"I want to be the village where it's not easy to get your tax assessment reduced," he added. "I think we should reject all these. We're just being squeezed by [these tax grievance companies.]"

Nothing was voted on yet formally but the board's  consensus appeared to be agreement with the mayor.

In Lloyd Harbor Village, the Board voted to approve reductions that were granted based on their assessed value from the Town of Huntington. Out of 136 grievance petitions  thatwere filed this year, 61 were approved, according to Mayor Leland Hairr at the Board of Trustees' Tuesday, March 2 meeting.

"They have  been reviewed by our assessor and we are agreeing to make adjustments for those who have been granted adjustments on their assessed value from Town of Huntington,  in addition there were two other grievances based on comparable sales that have been recommended for an adjustment  reduction," Mayor Hairr said.  "Hopefully soon the real estate market will be bottoming out."

Mayor Hairr referred the public and fellow board members to a web site set up by the New York Conference of Mayors. The site,  www.stopthetaxshift.org, is meant to educate the public about the direct connection between state actions - e.g. state mandates - and New York's real property tax burden. Both local officials and private citizens are able to use the site to deliver this message directly to state leaders, legislators and opinion-makers.  The site highlights a mandate of the week. This week it is Section 581 of the Real Property Tax Law and Section 339-y of the Real Property Law, which create a de facto exemption for most properties held in condominium or cooperative form of ownership.

Whitcomb referred residents here for steps to take if you disagree with your assessment:  http://www.orps.state.ny.us/pamphlet/complain/howtofile/adminreview.htm. It is attached to this article as well in .pdf form.

This Web site and brochure explain that assessments of real property are based on the market value (what a willing buyer would have paid a willing seller) of your property. Though the law does not require that property be assessed at its full market value, all property in an assessing unit must be assessed at a "uniform percentage of value." An "assessing unit" may be a county, city, town or village, but not a school district.

An important date in the assessment grievance process is the "tentative roll date." That is the date by which the assessor must file the tentative assessment roll to be used for taxing purposes. For most towns, the tentative roll date is May 1. However, this date also varies among cities, villages and some towns, so you should consult the assessor's office or the municipal clerk as to which date applies in your municipality.

The Real Property Tax Law requires the assessor to notify the taxpayer by mail of an increase in assessment (Section 510) or removal of an exemption (Section 510-a), at least 10 days before the date for hearing assessment complaints. The notice should specify each parcel of real property, the assessed valuation for the new assessment year and for the previous year, and the net increase in the assessment.

It is your responsibility to check your assessment on the tentative roll after it has been filed. Failure to receive a notice of increased assessment will not invalidate your assessment. It's important to know that there is a presumption that the assessment made by the assessor is correct. The burden to prove otherwise is on the property owner.

If you think you want to challenge your assessment, there is the Small Claims Assessment Review. It is a less costly and more informal alternative to a formal Tax Certiorari proceeding, which can be time consuming and expensive. As outlined in Section 730 of the Real Property Tax Law, property owners may petition the court for review of their property assessment before a specially trained hearing officer for a nominal fee of $30. More information about this procedure is available at: http://www.nycourts.gov/litigants/scar/


Huntington Bay Bits and Pieces

The mayor is still working on the budget for the public hearing in April.

"We have a bunch of work to do before we present this next month," Morrow said. "I'll work with Lynn and Dennis in the next two weeks and come up with a budget proposal in the low single digits," he said.

The board has used up only 3/5s of its snow removal budget for the year, although they spent a little over $20,000 in the month of February alone. They're not the only ones hoping there's no more snow this year!

The deputy mayor said that they will have to "look at all the pot holes soon." They're trying to wait until the freezing weather is gone before they start fixing all the holes, so "we don't have to do it more than once." Trustee John McCusker agreed and added that "Long Island is one big pot hole right now."


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