About 1,000 property owners contest Guilderland’s new values

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Piles of paperwork: These boxes represent, about half and half, grievance forms that were dropped off for review by Guilderland’s Board of Assessment Review, and applications that are ready for residents’ appointments before the board. 

GUILDERLAND — Over two days, on May 28 and 29, almost 500 Guilderland residents appeared before the town’s board of assessment review. Another 500 or so grievance application forms were dropped off at the town hall for review by the board.

The numbers of grievances swelled because Guilderland, for the first time in 14 years, has revalued all 12,803 properties in town.

The board’s decisions will be mailed to property owners by the end of June in the form of a letter, sent by the assessor’s office.

Property owners will not see an increase in their tax bill unless their assessment rose more than about 40 to 42 percent, Guilderland’s assessor, Karen Van Wagenen, told The Enterprise earlier.

The board of assessment review usually consists of five full board members with two alternates, but this year two boards were created of five people each — five full members and five alternates — to be able to hear from more residents, who were allotted five minutes each for discussion with the board.

The board worked from 8:30 a.m. on May 28 till 10:30 p.m. including walk-ins, and on May 29 met with property owners from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., said Van Wagenen this week. On both days, she said, the boards started getting behind schedule at about 5 or 5:30 p.m.

On the second day, Van Wagenen said, the last appointment of the day was 10:40 p.m. “But by the time we got to 10:40, we were working on 7 p.m.,” she said.

“I had planned for the two boards and two days,” she reflected. “By the looks of it, we probably could have gone three boards, three days, to cover everybody.”

Guilderland is completing town-wide property revaluation, the first it has undertaken since 2005. Many people who live on the edges of Guilderland but in school districts other than Guilderland’s saw their taxes rise significantly when the state-set equalization rate for the town dropped in 2017 from 88 to 76 percent. This revaluation is intended to bring the assessed value of all the properties in Guilderland up to 100 percent.

On the afternoon of May 28, resident Rick Grant told The Enterprise as he waited with other grievers in the town hall’s town-board room for his turn before a board, “We all want the same thing: Be real on the taxes, do a proper assessment, a fair assessment.”

Grant said he owned a 13-acre piece of vacant land that is landlocked and unusable — “all cliffs and gullies” — and that its assessment had risen from $17,200 to $65,000, a difference of almost 300 percent.

The two days of formal grievances last week followed a month-long process in March of informal discussion with Van Wagenen and with Andrew Farbstein and Lawrence Farbstein, a father-and-son team of outside consultants hired to help with the townwide revaluation.

Van Wagenen said this week that the changes resulting from those discussions were made prior to issuing the tentative assessment roll on May 1, but that the office had not counted the number of informal discussions it held with residents. She estimated those at about 700.

She prefers for people to come in for informal discussions, she said, noting, “If there’s an actual problem with the data, we can get it fixed.” Informal discussions make for less paperwork for everyone, and less stress for property owners, she said, noting that many commercial property owners in particular skipped the informal process and went straight to formal grievance.


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