Supervisors scrutinize home sale comparisons

ELIZABETHTOWN - Officials from the New York State Office of Real Property Services (ORPS) drew marked skepticism from Essex County supervisors as they tried to explain how they determine equalization rates.

Dozens of local town assessors and concerned taxpayers attended the Essex County Ways and Means committee meeting June 29 to hear ORPS deputy executive director Vic Mallison and northern regional director Robert Aiken discuss the cumbersome methods by which the full market value of a municipality is calculated; methods which have raised suspicion from local government officials and taxpayers.

At the heart of the debate were equalization rates, a percentage determined by ORPS to represent how assessments within a township compare to the aggregate market value within that township. The latter is required by law to be estimated by ORPS.

"We take a look at the town overall and try to give you a value of what the town is worth," explained Mallison, who admitted that there was some margin for error in the process.

"It's not a guessing game, but it's not precise," he said.

Mallison said the need for equalization rates stems from the fact that New York is one of five states that has no clear statewide valuation standard, nor does it require its 1,128 taxing municipalities to perform periodic reassessments.

As a result, he explained, there are many towns that don't keep their assessments up to date with changing market values.

Equalization rates provide a ratio by which property tax fairness can be compared from town to town.

However, many questioned the process, which is seemingly shrouded in complicated mathematical formulas that often use data from neighboring towns.

Several supervisors complained that the data used in the analysis weren't being shared with local assessors, leading to confusion and disagreement regarding equalization. Aiken held that such information was available to assessors if requested.

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