Copake’s worth a lot, but some aren’t glad

COPAKE—Property owners in this “Land of Rural Charm” want answers about how their new assessed property values were arrived at and what they will mean come tax time.

Sixty or more people showed up at the March 10 Copake Town Board meeting to ask questions, voice concerns and try to make some sense of letters they received from the town advising them about changes in their property assessments based on a townwide revaluation that has been going on since 2012.

After returning to open session following a half-hour executive session to discuss legal matters with Attorney Victor Meyers concerning Salvatore Cascino, Supervisor Jeff Nayer explained how the town got to this point in the revaluation process.

With no revaluation done since the early 1990s and a 75% equalization rate (100% is the goal), the Town Board under former supervisor Reggie Crowley voted in 2010 to switch from three elected assessors to a sole appointed assessor and to go forward with a revaluation.

Craig Surprise was hired so the reval could be done in-house at a cost savings.

Data collection started in 2012 and over the years properties were visited and measured, mailers were sent out to property owners to verify that the property data on file was correct and adjusted data was entered into the computer. Meetings were held to keep the public informed. The assessor enters the property data along with recent property sales and fair market values in a program that produces each property’s assessment.

Approximately two-thirds of the 2,795 parcels in Copake went down or stayed the same in assessed value, while one-third went up.

Though Copake’s equalization rate has gone up to 82% since the reval started it still has the lowest equalization rate of any town in Columbia County. Supervisor Nayer estimates that the town has spent between $85,000 and $100,000 on the reval over the last three years and has saved about $100,000 by doing it in-house. The town’s total assessed value has gone from $452 million the last time a reval was done about 25 years ago to $776 million now, an increase of 72%.

When the floor was opened to questions from the public, Phil Muller wanted to know if the assessor would allow him to see information about other properties, specifically private roads, so he could compare assessments. He said that unless you are a real estate agent such information is impossible to find.

“Where is Mr. Surprise?” asked Fran Miller. Mr. Nayer told her he had chosen not to have Mr. Surprise attend because he did not want the meeting to “turn into a lynch mob.” Mrs. Miller said Mr. Surprise should have been present and questioned how he arrived at assessments on her two houses—calling the formula “voodoo science.”

Vito Ugenti wanted to know how data collectors were trained. He said his home was listed as having an awning and a patio that he did not know he had. He said his house was built in the 1800s and has windows that have not been replaced in 70 years yet his assessment has more than doubled.

Fred Miller said the assessor has “a worksheet” on each property in town and has to share it with the property owner, but when he met with the assessor he was told the information was not available. Mr. Miller told the board he has a 70-acre wetland that cannot be built upon, yet the assessment went from $55,000 to $430,000 which amounts to a $6,000 increase in taxes.

Hilarie Thomas asked whether the town “has to go through with this” reval. “We paid Mr. Surprise,” she said, but “can we throw the reval out?”

Mr. Nayer responded that since two-thirds of the town’s properties had seen a decrease in assessment, he doubted that a majority would approve abandoning the revaluation.

The supervisor said those who disagree with their new assessments should arrange to meet with the assessor to discuss the discrepancies. If an agreement cannot be reached, then the taxpayer can take his or her case to the Assessment Board of Review on Grievance Day May 24. Taxpayers who are still not satisfied can file a lawsuit to try to get their assessment reduced.

Following up on a question raised at the meeting, Town Attorney Ken Dow let Supervisor Nayer know by email “that the State Real Property Tax Regulations say that people going to the initial meeting after a reevaluation should be able to see the data on which their assessment was based.”

Mr. Nayer said by phone after the meeting that he has spoken to Mr. Surprise and those who schedule a meeting with the assessor will be provided that information.

Geoffrey Gloak, a spokesperson with the state Department of Taxation and Finance, told The Columbia Paper this week that his agency has found that “the most successful property reassessments are those that provide the greatest transparency to their taxpayers. Most towns now make lists of property records and sales available on their websites.”

Citing standards for best practices, Mr. Gloak said Canajoharie and the City of Albany are two examples of places that provide as much information as possible to taxpayers to make it easy to do their research and have a conversation with the assessor.

Mr. Gloak suggested that much helpful information for property owners going through the reassessment process may be found on the Department of Taxation and Finance website at www.tax.ny.gov and provided the following “standout” links:

• In order to decide whether they are assessed fairly, property owners should check the information the assessor has about their property and develop an estimate of the value of their property. See How to estimate the market value of your home: http://tax_qa/pubs_and_bulls/orpts/mv_estimates.htm

• If they believe that their new assessment is too high, property owners should meet with the assessor informally. If that doesn’t result in a reduction, here is information on contesting a reassessment: http://tax_qa/pit/property/contest/contestasmt.htm

To contact Diane Valden email

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