By Cathy DeDe. Chronicle Managing Editor
Hundreds of Johnsburg taxpayers are objecting to the new property valuations in the town’s first reassessment since 1953, almost 70 years.
More than 250 have made appointments for initial 10-minute informal grievance meetings, Town Assessor Letitia Williams tells The Chronicle.
Letters with preliminary assessments went out in mid-February.
A group calling itself Town of Johns-burg Concerned Citizens has 247 members on Facebook, and posts a litany of complaints and questions about those preliminary numbers.
An estimated 175 to 200 people showed up at a March town board meeting to question the assessments.
“That’s more people than voted in the last election,” Concerned Citizens member Jim Jetson told The Chronicle Monday. He said many also planned to speak at the Town Board meeting on Tuesday night, April 5.
Johnsburg has 2,311 residents.
Town Supervisor Andrea Hogan acknowledges, “There are some great big shifts. We’ve never done a reval. The board is completely cognizant of the sticker shock some people are feeling.”
She said, “The board is hearing people’s concerns. The reval process is very clearly defined by New York State Real Property Tax Law. We are working very hard so people can understand and participate in the process….
“We are very much encouraging people to go through the grievance process. Myself and another are spending most of our time helping people with that. I do expect a lot of changes, but not for people who are not participating in the process.”
She said, “There’s a common misperception that if the value went up 150 percent, the taxes will go up that amount, but it isn’t like that. Go through the grievance process, and we have to wait for the tax implications,” once the budget comes out on May 1. The final assessment will be completed by July 1, she said.
Mr. Jetson says, “There are old families that have been here forever who might not have the means, resources or education to contest their assessments. And there is no recourse to contest the one-third of properties that went down in value.
“There are big disparities, and the burden is on those that don’t necessarily have the resources to address it.”
He said, “The citizens of Johnsburg don’t want to see the community go the way of other tourist towns, where development and second homes drive out the people who have lived here their whole life.”
The informal process itself, short meetings in the hallway of a public building, “can be intimidating,” Mr. Jetson said.
“There’s a lot of questions,” he says. “Out of 3,600 properties, 1,178 are up by 50 percent or higher.” Of those, “642 are up 100 percent or more.”
He contends, “Some of the math and formulas are simply not correct. The data is all on the town website. I’ve looked at the numbers, and the calculation is just wrong.”
New York State owns 58 percent of the 3,600 properties in Johnsburg.
The State’s Gore Mountain Ski property had its assessment reduced from more than $18.4 million to about $1.2 million.
“That’s 93 percent,” Mr. Jetson says. “How can that be?”
Ms. Hogan said the state sets the value of its property. She said she did convince the state to “up” its original assessment.
Mr. Jetson acknowledges that Gore doesn’t pay property taxes anyway, “so it’s not transferring burden to taxpayers,” but he said its value counts in the Town’s full assessment, which impacts how much sales tax revenue Johnsburg receives from Warren County.
Town Assessor Ms. Williams did the reval.
She is “up to the task,” said Ms. Hogan, noting that both Johnsburg’s and one Ms. Williams just completed for the Town of Minerva were reviewed by two different units of the State Board of Assessment Review. “Both reviews said, ‘Well done, spot on,’” Ms. Hogan said.
However, Mr. Jetson contends that Ms. Williams was only just off probation as a newly accredited assessor when she took on the town-wide project. He said the Town Board originally planned to go with an outside consultant to do the work.
“She told the Board that she could save them money by doing it in-house,” Mr. Jetson says. “The real point of the matter is the Town Board didn’t do their homework. They didn’t talk to other assessors about best practices or challenges of doing it themselves.
“I feel bad for this assessor. She’s defensive and under fire. This is the making of the Town Board, putting her in a position to fail.”
His group is calling for an independent review by an outside firm. “The only explanation we are receiving now is the numbers are preliminary. How can they be so off and we still have confidence, is what everyone is grappling with.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Williams, in the midst of those back-to-back informal meetings with property owners, said in an e-mail exchange with The Chronicle that the process is going “as expected.”
She said “land and homes” showed the greatest changes in the reval and that preliminary assessments are most likely “off” due to the interior condition of the home,” she said.
Ms. Hogan agreed: “There are details that the data collector wouldn’t see.”
Ms. Williams urged, “The time frame for informals ends April 20, and the regular Grievance Day is in May” — Thursday, May 26, at Tannery Pond.
Ms. Hogan said, “Once the reval is in place, we can look at options, programs for relief that we couldn’t take advantage of before there was a reassessment.”
She also said the Town offers an installment tax payment option.
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