Think you’re paying too much? Time to grieve

HILLSDALE–If you think the market value of your house is less than your town assessor’s most recent calculation, then Tuesday, May 25, is the day for you to plead your case. The fourth Tuesday of May is traditionally property assessment “Grievance Day”– when New York state homeowners can lay out their arguments before a property assessment review board in their hometown.

Fourteen Columbia County towns, as well as the City of Hudson, will have Board of Assessment Review meetings Tuesday. Boards in the towns of Austerlitz, Hillsdale, Livingston and New Lebanon will meet later in the week, since they share part-time assessors with other towns.

Suzette Booy, the county’s Director of Real Property Services, said the key to reducing your assessment is to prove that the valuation of your house is too high compared to similar properties in your town. The board cannot reduce your valuation, for example, because you lost your job.

“The assessor and board cannot make decisions based on one’s ability to pay taxes,” Ms. Booy said. “It’s up to the taxpayer to prove the assessor’s valuation is not equitable.”

If you want to determine if your property tax assessment is fair and equitable, the first step is to check the county’s Tentative Assessment Roll, found through a link on the homepage of the Columbia County website at www.columbiacountyny.com.  Properties are listed by street address and tax map number and are valued as of July 1, 2009.

Next come up with your own estimate of the market value of your home–the price for which you could likely sell your house. The state’s Office of Real Property Services suggests looking at the sales prices of similar properties in your community, looking at characteristics of your home, including the number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms and square footage of the living area. In addition, special features like a fireplace or a swimming pool may increase the value of your home.

Finally, if your calculation of property value is less than your assessment, the next step may be an informal conversation with your local assessor. If you’re still not satisfied, all homeowners have the right to a formal review of their assessment on Grievance Day. To do so, you must submit an application to your town assessor on or before May 25, by completing form RP-524, which can be printed from the Office of Real Property Services website at www.orps.state.ny.us. (Click on “What to Do If You Disagree with Your Assessment.”) You can find the name, public office hours and contact information for your local assessor on the Columbia County website at www.columbiacountyny.com/depts/rps/assessors.html.

Ms. Booy said the number one factor that prompts homeowners to appeal their assessment is when a town does a full revaluation of property. This year the towns of Canaan, Clermont and Kinderhook went through the entire process, while Gallatin and Hudson made “a number of adjustments,” said Ms. Booy.

The town of Kinderhook is the only municipality in the county that does a full property revaluation each year, doing so since a vote by the Town Board in 2000. Kinderhook’s assessor, Barbara Beaucage, said the yearly revaluation seems to increase the number of appeals.“I think it stirs the pot, getting a letter every year, versus every four years or so,” Ms. Beaucage said.

She also said the weak economy may result in more homeowners going before the Kinderhook Assessment Board this year. One week before the deadline, Ms. Beaucage said she had received 20 applications so far.

However she said the struggling economy is not reason enough for the board to reduce your assessment. “With so many homes on the market, people see houses listed at market value, but not selling at all,” she said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean the value of your house has gone down; it could mean there are other factors at play.”

Both Ms. Beaucage and County Director Booy emphasize there’s a difference between the assessed value of your home and the property taxes you pay. “The assessor’s job is to come up with a fair and equal assessment roll for every taxpayer, not to set their property tax rate,” Ms. Booy said.

“We don’t allow the T-word in our offices,” Ms. Beaucage said. “We’ll discuss your assessment, but we can’t talk about your taxes. We don’t have anything to do with your tax rate.”

Property tax rates are set by town and village boards, the Common Council in Hudson, school boards and the county Board of Supervisors.

Ms. Beaucage added she and the county’s other 26 assessors don’t take their job lightly. “We put a lot of effort into analyzing the market,” she said. “We want it to be right, we want it to equitable, but it will never be perfect.” 

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