The Town of Greenburgh this week published a map on its website showing assessment increases of 25% or more throughout Edgemont, with the hardest hit areas appearing to be single family homes in Cotswold, Old Edgemont and off Underhill Road.
Although the Town’s map does not show it, increases for many homes in these areas are as much as 50% or more. Repeated requests to show how many homes actually saw increases of 50% or more have been ignored by town officials who have the data at their fingertips.
Unless the Town Board agrees to a state-sanctioned proposal to phase in these new assessments over a five-year period, many Edgemont homeowners will see automatic property tax hikes next year of between $5,000 to $10,000 or more.
A proposed local law to authorize the five-year phase-in will be the subject of a public hearing at Town Hall on April 13 at 8 p.m. A copy of the statute which authorizes the five-year phase in is linked.
However, Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, who eagerly embraced the idea of a five-year phase-in when ECC president Bob Bernstein first suggested it to the board three weeks ago, now says he’s against it, as is the Town’s tax assessor Edye McCarthy, who’s been against the idea from the start.
The advantage of phasing in the assessments over a five-year period is that it would temporarily ease the financial pain for those whose assessments spiked while at the same time require that they start paying 100% of their fair share of property taxes after five years.
Town officials came out against the idea when an official from the New York State Office of Real Property Tax Services told them that 90% of the five-year phase in would be implemented in the first year. Mr. Feiner now cites to a legal opinion to support the view the five-year phase-in doesn’t work, but the opinion nowhere explains why that would be the case — and residents who wish to do so can read the statute to see for themselves.
Mr. Feiner accepted that argument even though he has been told and shown repeatedly that the plain language of the statute does not indicate anything of the sort.
Mr. Feiner is evidently hoping that by telling residents the statute doesn’t really protect them, that he won’t be blamed for the hardship that ensues when the Town proceeds to adopt the new assessments.
Section 1904 authorizes towns to phase in the reassessments over five years by taking the difference between the prior assessment (adjusted to today’s dollars) and the new assessment and dividing by five. In the first year of the transition, the transition assessment would therefore be the prior assessment plus 20% of that difference.
Applying simple math shows that there is no way that 90% of the impact of reassessment would be felt in the first year, and Mr. Feiner presumably knows that too, but he hopes residents will believe him – and not hold him accountable — when he tells them that no, it’s really 90%.
The downside of the five-year phase in, however, is that those whose properties were over-assessed would continue to have to “subsidize” their under-assessed neighbors, at least in part, for the duration of that five-year period.
However, anyone who believes he or she is over-assessed already has a separate state right to “grieve” his or her taxes, regardless of whether the Town Board adopts the five-year phase in. For that reason, the statutory framework for allowing a transition treats everyone fairly.
Mr. Feiner nevertheless feels that because state law already allows those who are over-assessed to grieve their taxes in order to pay their fair share, adopting Section 1904, which phases in lower assessments for those who were over-assessed, is somehow unfair.
In fact, because anyone who believes he or she is over-assessed can grieve his or her taxes, the five-year phase-in would prejudice no one while at the same time ease the financial pain of thousands of Greenburgh residents, many of whom live in Edgemont, who fear they may have to sell their homes in a down market, with the price of many homes being forced downward by the new tremendously large property taxes levied on their properties.
Rather than address the pros and cons of the five-year phase-in, Mr. Feiner instead tonight attacked Mr. Bernstein personally for having raised the idea in the first place.
In an an email to an Edgemont resident who saw her assessment on Underhill Road spike by nearly 69%, Mr. Feiner wrote as follows:
“After Bob suggested a five year phase in we immediately contacted the state to find out how practical the 5 year phase in was. NYS got back to us and advised that the phase in was not really a phase in since most of the increases would take effect on year one,” Mr. Feiner said.
In fact, the plain wording of the statute, which Mr. Feiner ignores, does no such thing.
“They also indicated that the town would lose state financial assistance if we implemented that law,” Mr. Feiner said.
Mr. Bernstein said that when balancing the rights of taxpayers who, because of the huge spikes in their assessments, may now be forced to sell their homes, against the Town’s right to receive this so-called state financial assistance, “it would be helpful if Mr. Feiner actually told the public how much that assistance really is” because if it is as little as we think it is, the loss of these funds may be minuscule when compared to the overall damage Mr. Feiner’s actions in opposing the transition may do not just to Edgemont, but to the rest of unincorporated Greenburgh and indeed to the town entire.”
Continuing with his personal attack, Mr. Feiner added, “And Mr. Bernstein indicated that if we approved the phase in that he would file a certiorari because after the reassessment kicks in his family is entitled to a significant reduction in his own taxes. Originally I thought that the phase in would apply to everyone.”
“Mr. Feiner’s comment is sheer nonsense,” Mr. Bernstein said. “First, homeowners can’t file tax certiorari claims — only owners of commercial properties, including condos can do that. And second, the reason I can grieve my taxes is that all homeowners, whether their assessment from Tyler went up or down, can always grieve their taxes if they feel that the actual market value of their property is worth less than what the Town says it is. That’s the law in New York.”
“Mr. Feiner is a condo owner. His property taxes are subsidized substantially by all owners of single, two- and three-family homes in Greenburgh. Because he doesn’t have to pay property taxes like the rest of us, Mr. Feiner may not understand how the property tax laws work in New York, which may be why he doesn’t seem to understand how important it is as a town official to utilize the mitigation measures the state legislature has given the Town to use,” Mr. Bernstein added.
By personally attacking Mr. Bernstein for proposing the idea of a five-year phase-in instead of addressing the merits of the proposal, Mr. Feiner appears to be trying to avoid taking personal responsibility himself for the harm that will ensue when the Town Board rejects the five-year phase-in, as it currently plans to do.
“The Town Board right now is like a commuter train speeding at 80 miles per hour heading to that dangerous curve at Spuyten Duyvil,” Mr. Bernstein said, referring to the imminent prospect of the Town adopting the new tentative tax assessment roll without any mitigation measures.
“Town leaders can easily avoid hurting so many innocent people if they would just apply the brakes, take the time to actually read the statute for themselves, examine the legal opinion the state has provided, and see how much actual leeway the state is now giving the Town to interpret the statute in a way to help people.”
“We in Edgemont have really gone the extra mile with Greenburgh’s elected officials,” Mr. Bernstein added. “If the Town wishes to continue to remain indifferent to the concerns of Edgemont residents, we get that message loud and clear, but Edgemont residents may feel that enough’s enough already.”
Incorporation petitions have already been drawn up and are ready to be circulated.
In Edgemont, the blended tax rate is 3.34% while in neighboring Scarsdale, the blended tax rate is only 2.24%, which means that on a home valued in each community at $1 million, property taxes in Edgemont would be $33,400, while in Scarsdale they would be $22,400 – an $11,000 annual difference.
The five-year phase is authorized by Section 1904 of the Real Property Tax Law. It was first enacted in 1981 as part of a package of reforms intended to deal with the impact of reassessment in communities that had not reassessed for decades.
While certain of the reforms, such as Homestead, were intended to deal primarily with the potential shift in taxes from commercial property owners to homeowners, Section 1904 was specifically intended to deal with the problem of the financial hardships posed by spikes in assessed values.
Legislators were concerned that for many municipalities that had not done a revaluation in decades, many older homes would be found to have been grossly under-assessed. The law seeks to balance the financial hardship on those who would now be required to pay their fair share against the right of those who had been over-assessed and thus were effectively subsidizing everyone else.
By authorizing the five-year phase in, the state was trying to mitigate the impact of reassessment on those older homes in order to generate broad-based support for reassessment generally.
The state’s Office of Real Property Tax Services recently issued a legal opinion to the Town, noting that because no other municipality in the state had ever adopted a five-year phase in after doing a reassessment, the Town would have free rein to interpret the statute as it sees fit.
“It’s a shame that Mr. Feiner, whose own personal assessment on his $700,000 condo in Boulder Ridge is assessed by Tyler as if it were worth only $384,000, won’t even take the time to read a statute that could help so many people, not just in Edgemont, but in Irvington and other villages. Instead, he thinks it’s appropriate to launch personal attacks on those of us who have,” Mr. Bernstein said.
In the meantime, the Town continues to block residents from receiving information they need to have meaningful meetings with Tyler Technologies.
Thus, the Town refuses to release to residents copies of the “Residential Assessment Record Report,” which summarizes the grades Tyler has assigned to individual homes when it came up with each home’s value. Residents with access to the report are able to determine whether and to what extent Tyler had erroneous information that could be corrected.
However, residents may be able to get a copy of that report from Tyler itself by emailing Danielle.Conway@tylertech.com.