A tangled web

By KATIE ATKINS

OBSERVER Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The Town of Portland needs a revaluation, desperately. That was the conclusion at a recent town board meeting attended by New York State Assemblyman Andy Goodell and Senator Cathy Young.

The meeting started out quietly, then erupted into a discussion about resolutions for the town’s burgeoning tax problem.

County Tax Director James Caflisch said, “Your level of assessment is all messed up,” adding, “Your inventories are all messed up, too.”

Caflisch strongly encouraged the board to begin a revaluation if they want to straighten things out. “There is some pain to get through that first reval. It comes down to quite a process,” he said.

The main issue is Portland’s equalization rate, the state’s measure of a municipality’s level of assessment. Equalization rates can be an indicator of how often reassessments are conducted, and when the overall property in the town is assessed at less than the market value, an equalization rate of less than 100 percent is set.

Portland is dealing with an equalization rate of 54 percent. This means that the overall property in the town is assessed at 54 percent of the market value.

Betty DeLand, school business executive for Brocton Central School, previously noted that tax assessor Dea Anna Wheeler “Is trying to do a full-time job working part-time.”

DeLand said, “The town needs to either drop its assessed value so low the state can’t change it, or bring everything up to 100 percent with a revaluation.”

She explained, “As far as paying town taxes to the Town of Portland, their tax rate increase was minimal, but was solely based on the market value of their home according to the state, not the tax assessor.”

Concerned residents feel they have been treated unfairly by the state, which has used a computer-assisted mass appraisal system which was not used in other towns for the past four years.

“It’s like we’ve been targeted,” said resident Mark Rand. “There’s got to be a better way.”

Caflisch said, “Your values are all wrong.”

Assemblyman Goodell said, “The problem you have is even if the equalization rate is right, that’s only part of the picture.”

Goodell added, “If everything is consistent, it’s not a big issue,” and, “You have to do a revalution and trust future boards to keep it up.”

Rand asked, “Why doesn’t the state mandate that?”

Goodell responded, “As a general principle, I try to avoid mandating things on local levels. Historically, the state has tried to stay out of assessments,” and “leave the responsibility to local governments.”

This obviously includes the job of the assessor, who Rand pointed out has been forced to perform the duties of a full-time worker in a part-time work week, like DeLand said.

The town asked Goodell and Young for their help in the situation.

“There is a basic core problem and you need a revaluation, bottom line,” Young said. “If you want to the get the state out of it and have properties assessed at an equal rate then you have to do a revaluation.”

Young noted that she and Goodell are “very supportive of initiatives to reduce the property tax burden,” and that they hope to come up with a policy and “get Governor Andrew Cuomo on board.”