OK, right off the bat I know this will not sit favorably with some local officials and they should be upset, the tax assessment process in Westchester County is rife with flaws and is greatly over-inflated for this economy. Many of the municipal assessors are not even certified appraisers, which should raise red flags with voters. These assessors are the men and women who are determining the property values for your homes and in turn establish your tax rate and they are not certified appraisers.
It gets better……..when you receive your notification letter establishing your property’s assessment, it kickstarts the tax grievance process if you want to appeal. In order to have any chance at a successful appeal, they make you get a certified appraisal. Yet wait, there’s more….homeowners then provide the certified appraisal as part of the tax grievance application and are rejected outright because the municipalities don’t want to lose revenue.
All of this has led to an increase of more than 300% of applications which are rejected locally then being appealed in State Supreme Court. In 2009, some 7,000 property owners filed the so-called SCAR petitions for appellate review of their rejected tax grievance applications. In 2010, the court estimates that 3,000 appeals have been filed just by Yonkers city property owners to date and Village and Town appeals won’t be filed until later this year. It’s growing exponentially and property owners in Westchester are fed up and don’t want to take it any longer.
To further complicate the process, many of the towns and cities use the prior year’s property value when setting the current year’s assessed value. For example: The Town of Rye sent out preliminary assessment notices on or about April 1, 2010. Hypothetical homeowner Jones has received a tentative assessment of $650,000, which is about $75,000 lower than his 2009 assessed value. Yet, he won’t realize any perceived savings until his 2011 tax bill. Why? Because the taxes are based on the previous year’s assessment. So, when his property taxes come due on April 30, 2010, his invoice is based on the 2009 assessment which was a hypothetical $725,000 and not $650,000.
The problems continue for Mr. Jones. Under our hypothetical, he filed a grievance application against the 2009 assessment of $725,000 but it was rejected by the Town. Mr. Jones decided to appeal with a SCAR petition; however, because the court is swamped, the appeal won’t be heard until late summer – long after the tax invoice in question was due and payable on April 30th. Therefore, so not to incur a late payment penalty, Mr. Jones has to pay the contested bill in full and when he prevails on the SCAR petition, he will then be entitled to a refund from the Town.
It is a broken system, ladies and gentlemen. Property owners suffering under the highest property taxes in years, in a housing market that has fallen through the tectonic plates of this economy, deserve better. You need to make your local officials more accountable and not just spit empty promises of lower taxes and then increase spending, expecting the property owners to shoulder this financial nightmare. Further, the assessor’s position should be filled with qualified individuals and not people who are politically connected. In the meantime, do not miss this year’s deadline of June 15, 2010 to appeal your property taxes. If we’re really all in this together, let’s all do it and bury them in an avalanche of applications. Maybe that will get their attention when they try to come up for air!