Greenburgh homeowners struggling to understand why their property assessments suddenly skyrocketed, forcing them to pay thousands of dollars more in property taxes next year or risk losing their homes, were dealt another blow this week – Town Supervisor Paul Feiner is refusing to let residents to see in advance the “Residential Assessment Record Report” that Tyler Technologies uses to justify these new ballooning assessments.
Tyler, the Texas company that the Town paid $3.8 million to conduct a town-wide reassessment – the Town’s first in 60 years – generated a “Residential Assessment Record Report” for each home that it assessed. Included on the two-page report are the grades Tyler assigned to each home based on its quality of construction and condition, as well as any discounts it may have provided for homes that may be located near busy highways, shopping centers, powerlines and railroads, or which may be situated on excessively steep slopes, or which, because of the land’s topography, may have no front or backyards.
Also included on the report is a listing of five properties that were sold prior to July 1, 2015 which Tyler selected to use as “comparables” to justify the new value assigned to a homeowner’s property. Many of the homes Tyler chose to include bear no relationship whatsoever to the homeowner’s actual home, either in terms of style (e.g., colonial, contemporary or split level), number of square feet, condition, and most important, proximity to the actual home. Many residents are finding, after the fact, that Tyler used homes that were not even in the homeowner’s neighborhood to justify the values used; and that neighboring homes of similar size may have been assessed based on an entirely different set of “comparables.”
Tyler is inexplicably refusing to consider sales that took place after July 1, 2015, even if they may be the best evidence of what a property may be worth, but without seeing the “Residential Assessment Record Report” homeowners might not know that was the case.
Even such basic information as to whether Tyler recorded having inspected a home is included on the report — and in some instances, the information is wrong.
Residents who have signed up informally with Tyler to challenge their new assessments in the informal “15-minute” meetings being held in the Town Hall cafeteria are at a distinct disadvantage in not knowing, in advance, what information is on those report.
Thus, for example, if the report says Tyler inspected the home, when in fact, Tyler never inspected the home, Tyler representatives may choose to disregard any photographs a resident might bring to the 15-minute meeting – unless the resident also brings proof that the photos were taken after the Tyler inspection took place.
But if Tyler never inspected in the first place, Tyler won’t accept photographs either, unless the homeowner takes pictures not just of poor conditions on the property that might result in discounting of its value, but of the entire house, interior and exterior, and of the entire property, front, sides and rear. Most residents would not know to do that, and even if they do, depending on the grades which were assigned by Tyler to the property, which residents wouldn’t know about either without seeing the “Residential Assessment Record Report,” the Tyler representative might not care what the photographs show.
Mr. Feiner was asked Tuesday to release not only the “Residential Assessment Record Report” but also an explanation of the criteria Tyler used to come up with the assessments. Thus, for example, a consultant the Town hired to assist with the Tyler reassessment said at Tuesday’s town board work session that Tyler defines its criteria – so its staff would know how to assign its grades – and that such information could be made public.
But Mr. Feiner refused this week to release either the “Residential Assessment Record Report” or the criteria Tyler used.
He explained that the Town’s tax assessor, Edye McCarthy, is taking the position that Tyler’s reports are a “work in progress” which the Town is not obligated to disclose; he hasn’t explained why the Town is thus far refusing to release the criteria that Tyler used.
The documents are not, in fact, a “work in progress” since they are being released to residents at the 15-minute meetings, if residents know to ask for them. In some cases, residents have been taking pictures of the documents with their smartphones because the Tyler representative either didn’t offer to make a copy or requests for copies were ignored.
Many residents frustrated by the Town’s unwillingness to help them understand what Tyler actually did believe that the real reason Mr. Feiner and Ms. McCarthy don’t want residents to see these documents in advance is that they will then have time to discover and document the growing catalog of errors that Tyler personnel made which, if made public, would further undermine the integrity of the entire project, thus calling into question the legitimacy of everyone’s new assessment, whether it went up or down.
Rather than release the information homeowners actually need to prepare for their 15-minute meetings with Tyler, Mr. Feiner instead issued a press release listing the types of information residents “may want to bring” – but without knowing in advance what Tyler did and how it did it, residents would not know in advance whether any or all of the information on Mr. Feiner’s list would be something Tyler would even consider. In other words, rather than give homeowners the tools they would need, Mr. Feiner is instead shifting responsibility to homeowners to figure things out for themselves, so he and Mr. McCarthy can avoid taking any further responsibility for the deplorable situation that’s been allowed to unfold under their supervision.
About 24% of the Town’s properties saw an increase in their assessment, while 42% saw a decrease, while the rest remained the same. But hidden in that 24% increase were spikes in assessments in some cases of 100% or more.
Mr. Feiner is also refusing to release data which the Town has showing how many experienced increase in their assessment of 20%, 30%, 40% and 50% of more, so that the public can see the true magnitude of the problem the Town is facing with residents who never had any reason to believe their homes had previously been grossly under-assessed and are now facing thousands of dollars in higher taxes next year that may force some of them to lose their homes.
Instead, Mr. Feiner is releasing statistics that Ms. McCarthy prepared that seek to disguise the true impact of reassessment. Thus, for example, in Edgemont, which many consider “ground zero” in the tax revolt movement because of the huge increases in assessment some residents are now facing, Ms. McCarthy insisted there was only a 9% increase in property assessments overall.