And down came the assessments

City lowers property values by more than 33 percent

by Jesse J. Smith
May 19, 2011 02:46 PM | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Andi Turco-Levin and Hayes Clement.
Andi Turco-Levin and Hayes Clement.
Property owners across the city got word earlier this month that they would see sharp declines in the assessed values of their homes and businesses in a move that advocates say will decrease the tax burden in Kingston.

According to city assessor Mary Ann Bahruth, 7,900 of the 8,300 notices of reduced assessments up from 5,100 in 2010. The total value of all properties in the city, including tax-exempt parcels, dropped by more than a third to $2.039 billion. Assessments dropped by an average of 9 percent in residential properties and 15 percent in commercial parcels. The annual revaluation found declining property values in nearly all 12 residential “neighborhoods” — which include non-geographic property classes like condominiums — and all five commercial zones used by the assessor’s office to compare real estate sales data to determine market trends.

It was the most sweeping drop in assessments since 2008 when Kingston carried out its first citywide revaluation in two decades and entered into an agreement with the state Office of Real Property Services to maintain assessments at 100 percent of market value. ORPS pays a bounty of up to $5 a parcel to communities which agree to keep their assessments up to date. The revaluation, which occurred just before the housing market meltdown, led to an ongoing wave of legal battles over assessments and charges by critics that the entire city was severely over-assessed.

Earlier this year, a group of those critics, including Common Council members and mayoral hopefuls Andi Turco-Levin (R-Ward 1) and Hayes Clement (D-Ward 9) met with Bahruth, Mayor James Sottile and Dave Carlon, a representative from GAR Associates, the city’s assessment consultants. Realtor John Hoyt, accountant Bill Berardi and retired Wallkill Central School District superintendent Tony Argulewicz were also present at the meeting and presented data, including real estate sales and asking prices to back up the contention assessments were too high. As a result, the critics argued, Kingston was paying more than its fair share of multi-jurisdictional taxes levied by the county and school district.

“We had a lot of ammo,” said Turco-Levin, former president of the Ulster County Board of Realtors. “They admitted that the assessments were too high and that things had to change.”

But Bahruth and Sottile denied that the meeting had any impact on the final assessments. Bahruth said that they simply applied the same system of neighborhood-by-neighborhood sales comparisons to identify market trends and apply the results to new assessments. Sottile, meanwhile, claimed that the assessment process was immune to political influence.

“I know some candidates running for mayor are trying to take credit for this, but that is so far from the truth,” said Sottile, who conceded that the critics had made valid points during the meeting. “The reason assessments were lowered was because the market dictates that they be lowered.”

Hoyt and Clement, however, both noted that Carlon told them that, in addition to a roughly 10 percent assessment drop clearly dictated by the market trends, city officials could apply an additional five percent reduction and still remain within ORPS guidelines for 100 percent valuation.

“The way I understand it, Carlon felt that the city was clearly 10 percent over-assessed and that, based on the agreement with the state, there was another 5 percent that we could play with,” said Clement. “It appears that the mayor and the assessor took the more aggressive position and I think that was the right thing to do.”

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