Spring into Tax Savings

Spring has sprung and so has tax grievance season in Westchester.  That’s when homeowners come out of the woodwork with dreams of reducing their property taxes.  While the filing deadline has passed for the villages, the deadline for the towns and most cities in Westchester is just a few short months away on June 16, 2015.

Westchester Tax Grievance

Yet, the landscape is different this year and commonplace reductions will not be as easily won as in past years.  The reason is that many municipalities undertook market re-assessment projects in recent years:  Mamaroneck in 2013; Scarsdale in 2014; and Ossining this year for the first time in 43 years.  The revaluations have resulted in a seismic shift with lower tax bills for some and shockingly higher assessments for others.  The reality is that other than the rare exception, your property’s assessed value is now closer to the realized market value if your town has just undergone the reassessment process.

The process is easy and costs minimal compared to the savings which are often realized.  To file at the local level costs nothing.  Tax grievance attorneys generally charge a contingency fee, meaning that you pay nothing if your taxes are not reduced.  The only initial expense is the appraisal which must be done, generally less than $600 depending on your location.

Many homeowners try to employ self-help in filing the grievance application, but it’s worth retaining an attorney from the start.  If your application is denied then the tax grievance attorney will file a court appeal on your behalf if he or she is already on board.

It is also important to keep in mind that most municipalities in Westchester base your taxes on the prior year’s assessment, so if your town’s grievance deadline is June 16th for the 2015 tax roll, any reduction will not be realized until your 2016 taxes.  Therefore, don’t delay because prospective savings are still a year away.

Your taxes will not increase simply because you file a grievance application and lower property taxes can be a great asset if trying to sell your house in Westchester or anywhere else in the New York market.

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RIP Veteran Newscaster Lou Miliano

A shock tonight to hear of the passing of veteran CBS newscaster Lou Miliano.  Facebook is good and bad that way.  It keeps you connected even in sadness.

My connection with Lou goes back to my days at WCBS AM.  Lou was the station’s stellar correspondent.  We became fast friends without meeting face to face for the longest time.  He was always in the field and I was always in a tape studio ready to take his feeds.  I was awed by his insight and talent.  He could mix sound in the field and do what we in the news biz called a ROSR (reporter on scene) bringing radio listeners to the scene with his words.  I never had to do his mixing for him.  He was a wham, bam, thank you ‘mam reporter. Down and dirty and onto the next, without missing a detail, a soundbite, a newsmaker.

He was also one of the coolest guys in the biz.  You just wanted to hang with him.  How could you not? Intelligent and he rode a motorcycle.  A smart guy in a leather jacket.

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His official obit will list all of the stories he covered all over the world and all the awards he deservedly won.  What they won’t list is the support he gave to his friends and I am glad to have been among them.  Long after we both left the radio news biz, he retired and I went to law school, we found common ground in our love of all things Italian.

When I moved there for a brief while, Lou was one of the few people who stayed in touch, writing to me in Italian but letting me know I had a friend at home.  When I started my travel company, Lou even had me plot out his future move to Sorrento.  When I was writing my first book, Amalfi Blue,Lou was the first fellow journalist to get behind me all the way.

Facebook kept us connected.  I didn’t even know his battle with cancer had reared its head so recently because it seems like just the other day he was messaging me about something Italian.

He was a true rockstar among journalists but I will miss him more as a friend than as a colleague.  It was a true privilege to have been both.

I am sure Lou is on the back of a bike, hugging every curve of the Amalfi Drive, coming at you in three-two-one.  Abbracci dear friend.

Remembering Mario Cuomo

I was lucky enough to have had run-ins with Mario Cuomo.  Yes, I say lucky because the late Governor did nothing if not challenge journalists on a daily basis.  He wasn’t always the nicest, most easy going politician when it came to talking to the press but he was one of the most upfront, candid, pull no punches people you would ever meet…and readily available, no matter the day, no matter the hour.

Governor Mario CuomoI tailed after him for his three terms, from lower Manhattan to Westchester and beyond and it was always an event, never boring.  I could actually say he readied me for law school because with every question I posed came two or three right back at me.  He saw every side and then some.  His professorial approach to addressing issues fueled his critics with plenty of cries of “liberal elitism,” when nothing was further from the truth.

I remember one night, late night, Election Day eve back in 1992.  I had to call him at home.  Mrs. Cuomo answered and let me speak to him at once.  He was eager that night.  Many had thought he would be running for President that year but he didn’t.  Instead, he was fighting for New York, as he had done for decades.  This night he was eager to talk with me about whichever referendum New Yorkers were voting on.  I don’t remember whether it was education, jobs or the judiciary, since he fought for them on all fronts.  He wanted to talk about the referendum and I wanted to talk about Bill Clinton.  Details of the issue are fuzzy now some 22 years later but I clearly remember saving the Clinton question till the end because after 15+ years of chasing Mario around the totem pole, I knew when to time the zingers.  I asked him and he let loose…….

“You’re all alike.  I’m coming after you Fantino, if you don’t use the soundbite on that referendum, I’m coming after you.”

I knew he was teasing.  He had that way with us.  My journalism students, on the other hand, were shocked when I played back the tape (yes, tape) for them.

Today, I just smile, knowing that he served New York and served it well.  Godspeed, Mr. Governor.