Readers Write: Don’t rush assessment system changes

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The publisher of Blank Slate Media, Steven Blank, recently printed an editorial titled “Afflicting the afflicted, comforting the comfortable” in which he spins the extremely complicated issue of property tax assessment into political talking points.

Rather than evenhandedly addressing this critical and complex issue he chose to try vilifying one of our most dedicated and compassionate county legislators, Delia DeRiggi-Whitton.

Legislator DeRiggi has not called for slowing the process of accurately assessing property values, she has called for the slowing of a rushed process with a flawed result. The county has already acknowledged more than 60,000 assessment notice errors; so we should really take notice of what is going on.

When conducting property assessments, care must be taken not to commit errors that could significantly affect the appraisals. The valuation process should not be hasty and should include numerous checks throughout the process.

Unfortunately, new proposed county assessments were not established through actually reviewing each property and it’s improvements in order to ascertain a fair market value but rather through what the County Assessor is calling “modeling.”

I call it chasing sales which is a big no-no in the assessment community. They looked at average sales in communities over the past two years and equally valued all the properties in these communities based on those limited sales.

This might work in a planned community where every lot is the same size and homes are virtually identical but what about eclectic communities like Sea Cliff where huge multi-million dollar Victorians sit right next door to 900 square foot cottages.

Before this process began, the majority of properties in the county were significantly under-assessed. Now it appears that a significant percentage of properties are over-assessed. Therefore, residents are still stuck in the same rat race of being forced to grieve their assessed values.

The county is not equipped to deal with the hundreds of thousands of grievances coming their way. Comically, the county will have to reduce these inflated assessed values at the ARC hearings in order to avoid losing the grievances in small claims cases.

Given the County Guarantee, whereby the county has to repay the school tax portion of SCAR hearings won by residents, gambling these small claims cases can result in a financial future that is cataclysmic for the County.

One place where I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Blank is that property owners should be taxed what they owe, not one cent more and not one cent less.

It is unfortunate that due to this hurried procedure we are no closer to this goal today than we were a year ago. I also assume that we can all agree that we should be careful not to tax our residents out of their homes in the blink of an eye.

Legislator DeRiggi-Whitton is all in favor of a system that assesses properties within the County accurately and taxes the people fairly, as I am sure the county executive is.

The only issue is the process by which such assessments are conducted. We all know that anything worth doing is worth doing correctly – the first time.

Bruce Kennedy
Sea Cliff

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