It’s that seasonal time of year again to challenge your property taxes

Here is something to get rid of those winter blues – putting more money in your pocket.  For the past two years I have been filing Westchester tax grievance applications for clients with a 50-50 shot at winning anything at the local level.  However, with the deadline for many villages looming next month, the future is a bit brighter.

Photo: Graur Codrin / freedigitalphotos.net

2010 was the first year the municipalities realized the tax rolls were over-inflated and began granting a reduction in property taxes to those who filed tax grievance applications.  Not everyone received the full requested discount but many received close to it.

Filing a tax grievance application is a relatively simple process and is worth the small appraisal fee for most homeowners.  Further, while many homeowners try to do self-help in filing the grievance application, it is also worth retaining an attorney to help you from the start.  The attorney’s fee is contingent on a reduction or refund received or judgment granted in court, if you must appeal, so there is no upfront cost to you except maybe filing fees.

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 village’s grievance deadline is mid-February 2011 for the 2011 tax roll, any reduction will not be realized until your 2012 taxes.  Therefore, don’t delay because prospective savings are still a year away.  Municipal summaries are available online or by calling your local assessor’s office for important filing deadlines and assessment figures.

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An Open Letter to New York’s Governor Elect Andrew Cuomo

Dear Andrew,

Augurisimo! Well done, even though your victory was no surprise to anyone who has watched you over the last 20+ years.

You and I go way back…..all the way to Westhab in the 80s when Marlene Aig would cover you for the AP and I would do the same for 1010 WINS.  We knew; we knew then that you would succeed your Dad, eventually.  All anyone had to do was see your dedication to helping the homeless and the ease with which you handled people and the many media queries which ensued.

In fact, back in 1993 when you became Assistant Secretary of HUD, I told your Dad it was just a matter of time.  I told you the same thing at one point.  You didn’t call – he didn’t give you my resumé but that’s OK.  You worked hard and you made it.  So, now that you’re there you have to show the world what you can do.

You don’t have an easy road to hoe.  New York State is a mess thanks to the Democrats who came before you and the nation’s financial woes.  This didn’t happen overnight nor will it be fixed overnight.  Don’t run in like a rock star  into the Governor’s Mansion.  You’ve been there before so you know how the game is played.  All I ask is that you dedicate your new position to restoring the faith I used to have  as a Democrat because no one can afford to live here anymore.

Here’s my punch list; please see what you can do:

– Stimulate business with job growth and growth incentives.  Small businesses and solo practitioners have all but died off.

– Cut the property taxes in this state.  Try consolidating government.  Property is over-assessed and muncipalitites are now trying to deal with SCAR challenges that leave them scrambling.  They’ve been used to a gravy-laden budgets and don’t know how to deal with the a reduction in their tax roll.  Make this a priority or you won’t have any constituents to shepherd.  I mean if Montana’s legislature can meet every other year, why do we need such a bulky government, from Albany down to Dobbs Ferry?

– End the insurance monopoly, from health insurance to general liability and professional malpractice insurance.  No one can afford it and the only “healthy” bottom line is that of the insurance companies.  Come on!   Allstate’s third-quarter earnings this year jumped 50%, while I have to decide between buying the crappy health plan or none at all.  Some choice.

– Take control of the MTA.  It’s off the rails.  It started taxing businesses which don’t do business in NYC and still can’t manage to operate without exorbitant fare hikes.  Sorry, but WTF is that about?

You’ve aligned your stars for greatness and your political career can be a gallactic success.  If you can make New York  State THE place to live again – the White House is in your future and we know that!  I am telling you, take care of these things efficiently and you will win legions of new fans.  If you need help, just call, I’m only down the road.

Now get to work,

In bocca al lupo,

Lisa Fantino

Compassion still evident in a world of blood-spitting sharks!

As a New York litigator I am used to the back-stabbing, last-minute histrionics, name-calling, arguing that is part of our daily tableau (and that’s how some lawyers just treat each other!).  So, when this Westchester attorney gets to do good for someone it gives me the warm and fuzzies inside.

Today, I had to appear in the foreclosure part of State Supreme Court.  This is where doom and gloom should hang heavy as people are about to lose the one most personal thing closest to their heart – their home.  I say it should hang heavy because it does not.  The conference part was crowded with

Photo: Filomena Scalise/freedigitalphotos.net

hard-working people, people well-dressed and who respected the morning’s venue for their appearance.  They did not show up in jeans too low to fit correctly or in muscle shirts showing tatted out arms with a huge chip on their shoulder.  No, these were victims of our economy but not full of self-loathing and despair.  I saw smiles; I saw hope; and I saw compassion, not only from the hearing officers but from the attorneys (well, most of them) who appeared along with me.

This conference is now a required part of the foreclosure process following the mortgage crisis in this country and from what I can gather it’s a good thing.  Foreclosures are still on the rise in New York but the stigma associated with it is no longer as strong.  We are all in this sinking ship together and the only thing that is going to keep us afloat as a society is the compassion we show for each other.

I helped a man save his home today.  He gets another bite at the apple – it’s good for him and good for the bank.  As we waited for our “at bat” before the ref, he said to me, “There are a lot of people here about to lose their homes.  We just need a little compassion to make things right.”

In law school, they don’t teach us how to make things right.  They teach us how to analyze and fight.  I remember, during one rough semester, I grabbed onto a copy of the “The Soul of the Law” by Benjamin Sells, a lawyer turned psychologist.  He analyzed why lawyers behave the way they do, basically turning everything inside and outside their firm, into a black and white argument – theirs and their adversaries’.  Sometimes they lose sight of the person behind the fight.  Sometimes they lose their imagination altogether.  Sometimes they are so greedy to accrue billable hours that they forget their clients are living hour by hour.

This Westchester attorney needed a reminder that these tough times are hitting all of us, across all economic platforms.  It is no time for self-pity and it is definitely no time for greed or loathing.  We are all one hour away from stepping into the foreclosure part and we need to remember that compassion is the key to surviving this economic roller coaster.