EDITORIAL: It’s a good deal

WHAT’S YOUR HOME WORTH? Not the sentimental value and not what you hope you’d get for it when it outgrows your resolve to keep the paint from peeling off.

If you’ve already decided to sell it before you flee to a Carolina paradise, you’ll need a real estate agent. But if the feeling is closer to the “what if?…” stage, you might want to check your assessment. The Towns of Chatham and Ghent are among the communities preparing reassessments of their property tax base. There are private companies that prepare reassessments (also known as revaluations or “revals”), but those two towns have made the smart move and turned instead to the Columbia County Real Property Tax Service Agency.

You don’t have to accept the value the preliminary reassessment assigns to your property. And even if you believe the value should be changed you can still appreciate the work it does serving all but a handful of the municipalities around the county.

It’s a big job. The 2020 Census determined that there are 33,698 housing units in this county. The median value of these housing units is $233,600. If you must know, the unit we call home is below the median. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad.

Suzette Booy, director of the Real Property Tax Service Agency, and Chatham Town Assessor Kimberly Smith early this month spoke online with the Chatham Town Board about the progress of the reval and how it is used. (See Page 3.) Ms. Booy, who’s been with the agency for 30 years, urged people to take advantage of the options available to real property owners to question their assessments and seek to have them lowered. For this editorial, we spoke this week. Ms. Booy recommends property owners who plan to grieve their assessment take two steps; first, find local homes similar to yours but assessed for less, then narrow your search to find homes like this that have sold in the last two years.

Also, keep in mind that a reval is not only about individuals seeking to lower their tax bills. When it’s done correctly the result frequently reveals that the overall property value of a town has increased. A bigger tax base spreads the tax burden. That can be good news for a lot of property owners.

There used to be a saying that a reassessment increases the value of a third of the homes, decreases the value of a third and leaves the remaining third right where they were. Ms. Booy said it was too soon to say how the revaluation will affect the overall impact of the process, but she did offer what she calls the “real goal” of a reassessment: “Equity.”

The whole exercise of assessment is to ensure that each property owner pays a fair share of the tax burden. That concept seemed enough a couple of centuries ago when land was widely considered the best measure of a person’s wealth and a logical asset to tax. But we’re now in a period when the distribution of personal wealth is as unequal as it has ever been.

How is that related to reassessment? This task of assigning a value to our property and expecting us to pay the bill provide the funds that pay for essential services defines communities. Maintaining the integrity of the assessment process is as much a key to our democracy as counting the ballots on Election Day. We can be grateful for our assessors and the county Real Property Tax Service even as we grieve what we owe.

If you want to see the assessments of your community or what local homes sold for, it’s all online at the county website Real Property Tax Service Agency www.columbiacountyny.com\rpassessment and, in some towns there’s a link on the town website.

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