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.
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