Last night, the Common Council passed a resolution "authorizing the mayor to terminate the City's contract with GAR." Three members of the Common Council--Rob Bujan (First Ward), Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward), and Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward)--abstained from the vote, giving as reasons for their abstentions not knowing the ramifications of halting the assessment process, needing more evidence before moving to terminate the contract, and not seeing how terminating the contract would solve the problem. Although with seven aye votes, the resolution had sufficient votes to pass, Council president Tom DePietro, who makes a point of not voting unless there is a tie, voted aye.
On the advice of city attorney Andy Howard, the resolution was amended prior to the vote to strike the part about rejecting the preliminary assessment rolls. Howard cited New York State statute and case law to assert that neither the Common Council nor the mayor has the authority to set aside an assessment roll and reinstate a previous roll. That authority resides solely with the assessor, and the means to rectify problems and inequities is through the grieving process. Howard cautioned, "The legislative body cannot substitute its judgment for that of the assessor." One possible reason for this seems obvious: the assessment of real property should be a kind of abstract process and not subject to political pressure, but here we are in an election year, and it seems the assessments are becoming a campaign issue. Kamal Johnson (First Ward), who is challenging Mayor Rick Rector in the Democratic primary, seemed skeptical of Howard's legal opinion, asking to see the statutes and case law being cited. He also requested a second attorney's opinion on the issue. Linda Mussmann declared that the Council needed its own lawyer, claiming that Howard "represents the mayor."
Some interesting information emerged last night, not the least being that the resolution had not been written by any member of the Common Council nor did it come from any committee. It was generated by members of the public who wished to remain anonymous because, according to DePietro, they feared retribution from GAR Associates or from the Board of Assessment Review (BAR). Rather than going through a committee, as most resolutions do, this resolution was brought to the Council by DePietro.
There were many allegations, from aldermen and from the public, of incompetence in making the assessments. It was alleged that the asking price for a house currently on the market had been used as the assessment--an asking price being aspirational and likely not what the house will actually sell for. It was alleged that two identical Habitat houses had been assessed differently: the assessment for one house stayed the same, while the other tripled. It was alleged that houses on State Street were being compared with houses on Union Street. It alleged that the highest sales were being "cherry-picked" as comparables. Speaking of the comparables she has seen, Nicole Vidor declared, "All were bogus. None were on the mark."
Claudia Bruce complained that information about all comparables had not been provided, although in fact it has. The problem is that it's not presented in a very user-friendly format.
Kristal Heinz pointed out that the goal of reassessment was to bring values up to full market value and noted that dramatic increases are to be expected because "the city has not been keeping up revaluing its property." She asserted that "if everybody comes up as they should," property owners who see an increase in their assessment will not necessarily see a similar increase in their property taxes. That being said, she said she saw "no rhyme or reason" to some of the preliminary assessments and concluded that GAR "has not done a good job."
Of relevance to the idea of "everybody coming up as they should," last month Gossips asked city assessor Justin Maxwell for the assessed value of all the real property in Hudson before and after the current revaluation. In 2018, the total assessed value was $628,816,467. The total assessed value in 2019, before anything was challenged or changed, was $1,030,155,758. That's a little less than $629 million compared with a little more than $1 billion. According to my math, that is a 64 percent increase. It's no wonder people whose assessments have doubled or tripled feel that they are being unfairly assessed and fear they will be unfairly taxed or taxed beyond their means.
Steve Dunn raised several questions that went unanswered. "Let's assume," said Dunn, "the work of GAR is incompetent. What is the remedy? What is the implication of abandoning the reval process? Does it put the City in breach of state law?"
Most aldermen seemed to feel that it was critical to stop the revaluation process before May 1, which is the day that the preliminary assessment roll is presented. But if the process is halted before May 1, there will be no way of knowing if the process is actually working--if challenges have been successful and egregious errors have been corrected. Still it's understandable that people would fear the errors will not be rectified to their satisfaction, leaving the grieving process as their only recourse, and, if that fails, a lawsuit.
After passing the resolution, the Council agreed to hold a special meeting on Wednesday, April 24, at 5:00 p.m., in the Community Room at the Hudson Area Library, to discuss a remedy for the problem.
COPYRIGHT 2019 CAROLE OSTERINK
And the Council goes off half-cocked once again. Seems to be business as usual. Mr. Dunn asks very good questions and the Council would have been well-advised to have answers for them before embarking on a particular course of action.ReplyDelete
Sorry John, but it is the preliminary assessment that is half-cocked; in fact, it's full-cocked. And it's time you shouldered the responsibility--as a member of the CC--for the mess we're in now.Delete
I expect that many homeowners would not necessarily care if their home was assessed at "fair market value"... the issue, of course, is how much more tax will they need to pay with a new assessment? Does an assessment which triples mean taxes which are three times as much? It's all unclear and no definitive answers can be given. The unknown is scary. There has to be a way for everyone to be comfortable in a new assessment situation. I know at least three homeowners in Hudson who have moved out in the past several years and cited the high taxes as one of their main reasons. It might be helpful to know how other towns have handled new assessments successfully. Can we look to them for advice/solutions?ReplyDelete
The problem is that the term "fair market value," which can only be established when willing buy and willing seller make a deal, can only be crudely attached to the property tax system we have in New York State. At its best! By the time poorly equipped and ill-trained assessors get hold of the term--well, we see the results in Hudson: mayhem.Delete
The statement that your taxes won’t go up (much) if everyone is brought up to their correct value is somewhat misleading, or misunderstanding the full tax picture.ReplyDelete
If your property sees a large bump up in valuation, but lots of other people also are raised, it is true that your *City* taxes might be equalized somewhat, assuming the mil rate goes down accordingly.
*However*—and this is a big however—your Hudson City School District taxes likely could go up substantially.
Why? Because the HCSD includes properties in 4+ other towns in addition to Hudson (Greenport, Claverack, Stockport, and parts of Taghkanic, plus possibly even parts of Germantown/Livingston close to Hudson).
If those towns aren’t doing simultaneous revals, then Hudson’s share of the School taxes goes up substantially in comparison to properties in the rest of the district.
Some claim that equalization rates will take care of this problem, but from what I can tell that is largely a fiction. The neighboring towns are not viewed by the State as majorly out of whack, from what I can see, so equalization would not smooth out the Hudson raises much.
I hear that Greenport is doing a reval next year, and if they bump everyone up similarly that would go some way toward bringing Hudson’s increased share back down... But until/unless every town in the district does what Hudson does, City taxpayers could be shocked by their next School tax bill.
And School taxes are usually about half of your taxes on local properties.
Well said. And what I take-away from your comment is that the primary concern for homeowners around assessments is the UNKNOWN. The unknown is frightening. Will my taxes go up? And if so, how much? Let's not lose sight of that issue... is there a way to take away the unknown about taxes as they relate to assessments?Delete
Again, the ill-equipped implementers of a flawed system simply pass on their confusion to the taxpayer. If it is UNKNOWN, then what the hell are they (our government officials) doing putting the "estimated" tax on the assessment form. Why do we pay $150,000 (plus extra payments to the Assessor himself) for a company to do an absolutely incompetent job of gathering facts and then add insult to taxpayer injury by telling us we have to prove them wrong. I say to dear Tom above, as I would say to the 4 abstainers from the Council meeting: take off your rose-colored glasses.Delete
Peter, I'm not in disagreement the system for assessments is flawed (and I expect many others agree the system is flawed)... but changing that system is a huge undertaking. And so the only input I have at this point is: If this system is not working well, is there a system we can look at elsewhere that has worked well, and can we borrow from it?Delete
Tom, yes the system is flawed, but the same standards of skill and competence must be applied to both perfect and imperfect systems. And in this case the latter -- those implementing the system -- have failed miserably. And that must be addressed first, which the Common Council--God Bless them!!!--is finally doing. Those, like yourself apparently, who insist on looking the other way in the face of multiple, provable, and unmistakable FACTS, are as we say, whistling in the graveyard.... And speaking of facts, I find it ironically odd that Carole, in her report of the meeting, took the language of the four dissenters, and used the "alleged" multiple times in referring to the citizens' complaints when, in fact, it is GAR which has asserted--and is backed up the Mayor's silence--that it does not have to prove anything, has even been quoted as saying, the public as "the burden of proof." I think the "alleged" facts belong to the City. There are dozens of such alleged facts -- including the one that "we have no facts," as one dissenting council member said -- that I have heard from several (not many, thank God again) assessment apologists.Delete
Sam is exactly right. Why is the next mill rate such a deep, dark, secret? How can we know how we will be affected by a tax hike if that most important part of the equation is unknown? It's all very murky, and very alarming. Many of us are on a fixed income and cannot afford even higher taxes. They are already overly high in Hudson. And people decry the prevalence of Airbnb, but for many, it's the only way to keep the tax man from the door.ReplyDelete
I'd like to keep the focus of the conversation on what Cynthia is saying, and what Sam Pratt and I are saying... NOT KNOWING how much taxes will go up is ALARMING. Any increase in expenses is challenging for anyone.., but, for example, when we receive a notice from our health insurer that our health insurance is going up next year by $100, we have a number. We may not be pleased, but it is known. We can deal with it, we explore switching providers, heck, some of us may be glad it's not going up more. But, an UNKNOWN increase in taxes is very scary. Taxes are already high in Hudson... the idea/the possibility they could double or triple is beyond what most homeowners can deal with. Let's keep the focus in these town meetings and on this blog on what homeowners are most concerned about: An UNKNOWN increase in taxes.Delete
As long as you insist on keeping the conversation about the UNKNOWN, then why can't you answer my question: why doesn't the City, in it's little letter say, UNKNOWN?Delete
Claudia Bruce submitted this correction to the post:ReplyDelete
Information about all comparables has not been provided - unless someone decided that no comparables were used for commercial properties – there's no way of knowing, as GAR hasn’t provided any of their valuation data for those commercial properties which make up almost one third of the taxable properties in Hudson: according to the 2018 roll, about 680 properties out of around 2,000.
The file to which you’ve linked, recently uploaded, was the result of the Mayor, through a Board of Estimate and Apportionment meeting in the week of March 27, agreeing to pay GAR $3,500 extra to produce that list of comparables – but it includes residential properties only. This is despite taxpayer requests for information on how all properties were valued.
GAR has rejected requests for that information from owners of commercial properties, just telling them to *look at the pdf file of recent commercial sales* and find their own. That gives no information on how GAR valued those properties – whether with comparables, hypothetical income capitalization calculations, or some other method.