Townspeople air anger over new assessments

WARRENSBURG - A standing-room-only crowd of town residents worried about their taxes confronted the Warrensburg Town Board March 12, venting their anger and frustration over their soaring property assessments. Citizens asked why their assessments had soared 30 to 100 percent when some of their neighbors had similar property that hadn't changed much in the recent revaluation project in which properties' values were raised 32 percent overall. After listening to the complaints, town board members unanimously agreed with the public they weren't happy with the lack of fairness in many of the figures cited. During the lengthy meeting, Town Assessor Roger Langworthy tried to answer how he'd arrived at the new figures. Local Realtor Linda Marcella cited assessment data she'd gathered from official records. She cited specific examples from different neighborhoods in town, showing vast differences in assessments, although plots might be side-by-side and nearly identical. In other cases, she cited plots of land that were assessed exactly the same amount, although they differed in size three times and more. In one case , the land value of an identical plot was assessed at $51,000 more than the neighbors'. "There are some blatant inequalities in assessments here," she said, looking at Langworthy. "Someone who is reasonably trained would say we have mistakes here." Some waterfront property on the Schroon River had been lowered in value despite soaring demand in the open market for residential waterfront plots, she said. In one example, she showed how a one-acre waterfront plot was assessed at $37,000, while parcels one-fifth that size in a modest neighborhood were valued at $30,000. "How do you justify that?" she asked Langworthy. "Waterfront is worth exponentially more." Some said they were angered that Langworthy's own land on the Schroon River had decreased, while others went up. Visibly angry, Resident Kathy Ferullo said her property assessment went up $98,900 this year, and her daughter's went up $100,000 after big increases last year that they'd fought. "It doesn't take rocket science to determine fair comparisons in assessments," she said, suggesting that the town hire more workers, who could more objectively value property. "It shouldn't matter who you know or how long you live here, it should be fair." New resident Ed Chorba raised the same complaint. He cited figures showing his land was recently valued at several times higher than similar nearby plots owned by people who'd lived in town for several generations. When he moved to Warrensburg from downstate he bought a 2.2-acre plot of land on the Schroon River with a cabin on it, assessed for $70,200. Soon after, the value was raised to $203,000 although the assessment roll had been officially completed, he said. Then just this year, his assessment was raised to $272,000. Laurie Kalisz said she was frustrated to see some valuations rise far above true market value. Her home's assessment was hiked this year from $172,000 to $260,000, she said. "Why is my house worth $260,000 on the poor side of town?" she asked. "I wouldn't pay that much for it." John Stark of Warren County Real Property Services Department came to Langworthy's defense. "Roger's assessments are more equitable than most tax rolls in the county," Stark said. Town Councilman Austin Markey warned that property values in town were falling, and the downward momentum seemed to be accelerating. "There's got to be a problem with these values, considering the record number of foreclosures," he said, citing a local home assessed for $180,000 that recently sold for $90,000. Langworthy told the crowd the new assessments reflected property values in July 2007, and falling market values since then weren't accounted for. Stark said values weren't falling, but were relatively stable. Homeowner Eric Poust suggested that with the plunging market values, revaluations should be conducted yearly. "You're absolutely right," Town Supervisor Kevin Geraghty responded. Marcella reminded the crowd that rising assessments itself didn't necessarily mean higher taxes. Instead, it's the proportion of the total assessed value that one's individual property represents that is the determining factor. Geraghty noted that for years, local property values had been undervalued, and that after the state applied its equalization rates to adjust for these generally low values, homeowners were seeing their school taxes hiked unfairly. Also, he said that prevailing low valuations had penalized Warrensburg's taxpayers by reducing the town's share of sales tax revenues -- last year, the town lost $139,000. Warren County divvies up sales tax revenues according to the percentage of total county-wide property value is represented by the total value in the respective towns.

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