Guilderland signs on for cyclical revaluation

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy tells the Guilderland Town Board Tuesday about some of the county’s accomplishments over the past year, including the continued work of the county-run New York State Office of Immigration Services, headed by former public defender James Milstein, which educates public defenders, judges, and others in 13 counties about the ways in which court proceedings can affect an immigrant’s visa status or path to citizenship.

GUILDERLAND — The town of Guilderland will sign a memorandum of understanding with the New York State Office of Real Property Tax Services, agreeing to undergo townwide revaluations on a regular cycle of every four — or, at most, five — years.

The town board voted unanimously Tuesday night to take this step, which will give Guilderland the chance to be partially reimbursed for the costs of revaluation. The Aid for Cyclical Reassessments program — designed to encourage municipalities to reassess regularly — is allotted just $750,000 per year, for the entire state.

The program can reimburse at a rate of between $2 and $5 per parcel, said Van Wagenen, Guilderland’s assessor, which would mean a total, for the town’s 12,792 parcels, of between $25,584 and $63,960 coming back to the town. But it all depends, she said, on how many municipalities are participating in the program and vying for part of the $750,000.

Van Wagenen told The Enterprise on Wednesday that the memorandum means the town is agreeing to a four-year cycle. “We can get it up to every five years; they can do a one-year extension,” she said.

Guilderland, which used to conduct revaluation every four or five years since moving to full-value assessment in 1980, hasn’t done so since 2005.

People who live within the town of Guilderland but in school districts other than Guilderland’s saw their taxes rise significantly when the equalization rate dropped in 2017 from 88 to 76 percent. Guilderland residents also had a hike in Albany County tax bills.

This spurred the town board to undertake a revaluation.

Any reimbursement from the state would be received only after the revaluation is complete and the town has satisfied all of the state’s criteria, said Van Wagenen, so the funds would come in some time in 2019 at the earliest.

The town then would put the funds into a reserve account, “so that, when we go to do the next revaluation, we’ve got something to at least start with,” Van Wagenen explained.

Another reason to place the money in a reserve account is that, according to state law, if the town doesn’t do another reval within four or five years, the state has the right, Van Wagenen said, to ask for the money, or a portion of it, back.

The law says that, if a town withdraws completely from the program, ORPTS can ask for the entire amount back, Van Wagenen said; if a town extends the schedule, ORPTS can ask for a portion back, but the law doesn’t specify how much.

Being on this four-year cycle is “the plan,” she emphasized. “It’s hard to predict four or eight or 10 years from now,” she said, when there may be a different town board and the economic situation may have changed drastically.

“We’re saying that we’re agreeing to the four-year cycle, based on everything we know today,” Van Wagenen said.

She pointed out that the town will still have to pay for other expenses, which might include one or two computers that will need to be upgraded, some new software, and overtime pay next year for staff holding informal meetings with residents and formal grievance sessions.

“We’ve got almost 13,000 parcels. If everybody wanted to come in, that’d be a lot of overtime,” she said.

She will need to budget these additional expenses “this August, probably,” Van Wagenen said, and the first time that they would be reflected in people’s taxes would likely be the 2019 property taxes. However, she noted, there are only four town employees in the department, and they would be the only ones potentially being paid more for overtime work.

What residents can expect

The town will hold informational meetings, “probably in June,” Van Wagenen said, and will send out letters to all residents, probably in July.

The letters that go out in July, she said, will check inventory, asking residents to confirm information about the properties they own, such as size, value, age, and what kinds of improvements (garages, porches, etcetera) they include.

At that time, property owners will have an opportunity to write back with any corrections they feel should be made, she said, such as informing the town they finished off a basement but forgot to get a building permit.

The only properties that will need to be handled separately, she said, are those in which subdivision is currently in the works. “They won’t be reflected in our current assessment roll, because they’re not there,” she said.

This method is much cheaper than a “total collection data method,” which would involve town staff going out and personally measuring every property — home or business — in town, she said.

“Obviously, we couldn’t do that with four people,” Van Wagenen said of her staff. “We’d have to hire an army of people, basically.”

She said that the letters, with postage, paper, and printing, might cost about $5,000, as compared to the several hundred thousand it would take to use the more hands-on method. At the town board meeting Tuesday night, Van Wagenen estimated that doing a total collection data method would cost between $500,000 and $1 million.

The next time residents will hear from the town directly, Van Wagenen said, will be in February 2019, with a letter that says, “These are your new assessment numbers.” If residents want to discuss those figures, there will be a time period for informal meetings or formal grievances. There will also be opportunities for small claims, or certioraris, she said.

Information about informal meetings and formal grievances will be included with the February letters.

The first time that residents see the new appraisal reflected in their taxes will be September 2019, in the school-tax bill, she said.

“Their assessments may increase, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their taxes go up,” Van Wagenen said. “If all properties go up, and we have a bigger taxable number for the total; taxes shouldn’t go up. You’re dividing it across a bigger number.”

The town is planning to set aside two days to hear grievances this year — Grievance Day, set by the state, is May 22, but this can be extended to May 23 if needed — in case the number of people who want to discuss their assessment is significantly higher than last year. The town makes appointments, but also accepts walk-ins, and anyone arriving before 8 p.m. must be heard, Van Wagenen said.

Next year, the town will, if needed, further increase the number of Grievance Days.

 

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