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GREENBURGH REFUSES TO RECONSIDER HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION, DESPITE FAILURE TO ALLOW PUBLIC DISCUSSION OR PRODUCE DATA IT RELIED UPON

Even though it was never placed on any town board work session or regular meeting agenda, and none of the data purportedly relied on was ever made public despite repeated requests that it be produced, the Greenburgh Town Board tonight brushed off repeated public requests that it reconsider an unscheduled decision it made two weeks ago at a Tuesday afternoon work session not to adopt the Homestead Tax Act.

As a result of the Town Board’s action, Town Supervisor Paul Feiner was able to save himself personally tens of thousands of dollars in additional annual property taxes he would otherwise have had to pay had Homestead been adopted.

The Homestead Tax Act is a state law that seeks to lessen the adverse economic effects homeowners are likely to face in a town-wide revaluation. In order to promote tax fairness, which is the primary purpose for doing a town-wide revaluation in the first place, the Homestead law would tax condominiums of same value the same as single family homes of same value.

Under existing law, without Homestead, condominium owners are treated as if they own rental apartments which results in their property taxes being assessed at around 60% of what private homes pay, even though both properties may be worth the same price on the open market, which means one, two and three-family homes in Greenburgh subsidize owners of luxury condos, like the one that Mr. Feiner lives in, which many feel illustrates the current unfairness of the state property tax laws, which Homestead was enacted to address.

To add to the unfairness, luxury condo owners are entitled to commence tax certiorari proceedings going back six years, thereby allowing condo owners to have their assessment reduced over that period of time which, if they succeed, and most do, can allow for recovery for tax refunds over a five or six year period. By contrast, owners of one, two or three-family homes may only “grieve” their taxes, which can only be done one year at a time. The law does not allow them to collect tax refunds for multiple years.

Thus, Mr. Feiner, who lives in a $700,000 condominium at Boulder Ridge, has his 3,400 square foot unit currently assessed as if it were worth only $413,000 – and his property taxes this year are around $12,600. By contrast, there are private homes in Edgemont that are valued at around $700,000 where the property taxes this year are more than $33,000, or about $21,000 more than Mr. Feiner pays for same priced house, the difference being that his is a condominium.

For these reasons, the Edgemont Community Council at its regular monthly meeting this past Monday, unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the Town Board to produce the data it relied on in making its decision and reconsider its decision by allowing for public discussion of the issue. The ECC did not take a position for or against Homestead, saying it didn’t have the data it needed to make an informed judgment as to whether or not Homestead made sense.

The Town Board tonight heard ECC’s request and flatly rejected it. Rather than address criticism about the lack of an open process that led to the decision, Mr. Feiner instead read verbatim a lengthy press release he had issued on February 23, when the town board had acted.

When it was pointed out to him that his characterization of the Homestead law was wrong in several material respects – for example, in an apparent attempt to scare as many people as possible, he lumped co-ops and condos together, even though the law only applies to condos, and said under Homestead their property taxes would increase by 30%, Mr. Feiner brought out Edye McCarthy, the town tax assessor, who said it was perfectly legal for the Town Board to vote not to adopt Homestead in an unannounced work session since public notice would only have been required if the Town Board had actually planned to adopt Homestead.

Ms. McCarthy had clearly been planning weeks in advance for the town board work session discussion on Homestead, but went along with town officials in not letting anyone know it was on the agenda.  Among other things, she brought with her to the meeting state property tax officials who, while not taking a position for or against Homestead, had come with certain data on what other municipalities have done over the years; none of that data was disclosed, however.

Ms. McCarthy also said it was too late for the Town Board to reconsider its decision anyway because by law it has to be decided no less than 60 days before the Town adopts its assessment roll for 2017, which it usually does in May.   In other words, she worked with town officials to schedule the Homestead discussion at a time when she and town officials knew it would be too late for the public to weigh in even if it had wanted to.  She did not explain why she chose to wait so long before bringing up the matter.

She added that reopening the discussion would also “inconvenience” the Town’s ten school districts, none of whom she said wanted the Town to adopt Homestead. Ms. McCarthy offered no documentation to substantiate when these meetings took place, with whom and, if the Town only recently received the data it was relying upon, what specific data school officials she met with were presented.

Ms. McCarthy also cited statistics that she said supported the Town Board’s decision, but none of the data Ms. McCarthy cited, or which was presented to the Town Board, has been made public.

Freedom of Information Law requests seeking the production of that information were filed with the Town on February 25, 2016 –- two days after the work session where the matter was decided, but even though copies of the FOIL requests addressed to the Town via email were widely circulated among members of the public, town officials said they never got any such request.

In addition to the FOIL request, Mr. Feiner himself was asked publicly on this site two weeks ago to produce such information without requiring residents to go through the FOIL process but he ignored the request.

Homestead works by creating two classes of property ownership – a Homestead class consisting of one, two and three-family homes, plus condominiums – and a commercial class consisting of all other properties.

Because revaluation is expected to increase the percentage of property taxes paid by the Homestead class, while reducing the corresponding percentage paid by the commercial class, the Homestead law allows the reduction in property taxes to be paid by the commercial class to be phased in over a five-year period.

Mr. Feiner argued that if Homestead were adopted, the commercial property owners, including “co-ops and condo owners,” would all be subjected to huge property tax increases that would drive existing commercial property owners out of Greenburgh into neighboring Yonkers and prevent new businesses from locating in Greenburgh. Mr. Feiner presented no evidence to support any of these assertions.

Based on his public comments, it appeared that Mr. Feiner did not understand that all that would happen with Homestead is that the new more favorable tax assessments for commercial properties would be phased in over a five-year period, rather than imposed all at once.

Mr. Feiner did not also seem to understand that if homeowners would only be paying 2% more of the tax burden after reval, with commercial property owners paying 2% less, phasing in those more favorable rates over a five year period is not likely to have a material affect on commercial property owners at all – at least not an effect that would prompt a commercial property owner to leave Greenburgh or not to come here at all.

Therefore, the only property owners who would “suffer” from the tax “fairness” that Homestead seeks to achieve are owners of luxury condos, like Mr. Feiner who, in the interest of having to pay his fair share, would have to pay tens of thousands of dollars more a year – just as owners have single family homes worth the same amount on the market as Mr. Feiner’s condo – already have to pay.

 

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