Halcottsville residents seeking tax relief

By Pauline Liu
A group of Middletown property owners, who pay Roxbury Central School District taxes, complain they’ve been asked to pay more than their fair share.

About 30 Halcottsville property owners have formed a coalition in hopes of seeking school-tax relief. They are not blaming the school district, but rather the disparity between the property tax equalization rates of Roxbury and Middletown. They want Roxbury to reassess its parcels at 100 percent valuation, just as Middletown did last year. Roxbury’s property tax equalization rate remains at 30 percent. 

“Some taxpayers have seen their school taxes more than double,” said the group’s spokesperson, Jenny Liddle of Bragg Hollow. Halcottsville residents, Steve and Nancy Strich are a case in point. 

Large increase
“It’s scary,” said Steve, who works as a breakfast cook at Hanah Mountain Resort in Margaretville. “I paid just $2,630, in school taxes, but my wife says we paid $1, 400 the year before,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s fair for the residents of Halcottsville. Why can’t we pay the same as  Roxbury for school taxes? It’s getting to the point, if we can’t afford to pay our taxes we’re going to have to leave. The couple have been in the same home for 27 years. Nancy is the office manager at Ericson Automotive in Arkville. They have a granddaughter currently attending RCS. The Striches do not belong to the group, but Steve would like to join.

The group feels that new property owners in Roxbury are being impacted as well.

“Roxbury has not done a town-wide reval in decades and what’s happened is new property owners (in the school district), whether they be locals or weekenders or transplants, are picking up an unfair proportion (of taxes) in comparison to those who have had their homes for decades,” said Liddle.

Situation is unfair
“The thing that makes me angry is that I can understand why they don’t want the reval. Most of them have had their homes for a long time, but it’s not fair to everyone else and especially RCS taxpayers within Middletown, because we have absolutely no say in the situation,” she said.

Halcottsville resident Sharon Suess, who sometimes refers to it as, The Roxbury School Fair Tax Committee, started the group, which has no official name. 

“I heard a lot of people say school taxes were killing them,” she said.

Suess learned that a number of people were trying to fight their school tax hikes on their own. She thought they’d have more success with strength in numbers. “I knew, if we didn’t do something soon, it would be too late,” said Suess. So far, the group has held two meetings in April at the Halcottsville Grange.

Invoking a slogan used by this nation’s forefathers, the group has adopted the phrase, “Taxation without representation” to sum up its situation. “Because we are in Middletown, we have no representation in the matter,” said Liddle. “We cannot vote for the Roxbury town officials, who will have a say in whether the town does a revaluation. The real property laws are antiquated and inequitable.”

It’s been more than 30 years, since the last reassessment in Roxbury. Former Town Assessor Kim Cammer, who repeatedly asked the town board to agree to a reassessment, took inventory on Roxbury’s nearly 3,300 parcels to lay the groundwork for one.

Supervisor Tom Hynes told the News that the new Town Assessor Robert Breglio will be conducting a revaluation. The project has not yet begun.

“He’s (Breglio) done this before,” he said. “That’s why we hired him. We are working on the reval and trying to do it in-house to save people money.”

Hynes expects the project will take up to two years to complete. He also stated that he would happy to attend one of the group’s meetings and along with the assessor, if its members invited him. 

According to Liddle, the timing of the group’s formation is a matter of coincidence. School district voters across the state are preparing to go the polls to cast their ballots on their respective 2012-2013 budgets on Tuesday, May 15. In fact, Liddle said she intends to vote in favor of the RCS district’s new $9.6 million budget. The new RCS budget carries tax levy increase of $81,906 or 1.38 percent.

“The school doesn’t have anything to do with it,” said Liddle. “Tom O’Brien (the Roxbury school superintendent) showed everyone in the group that it was not an issue with the school budget. In fact, we think he’s done a good job in keeping budget expenses down.”  Suess added that O’Brien has been very helpful to the group.

The school superintendent even accepted the group’s invitation to join them at its second meeting.
“It was a good meeting,” said O’Brien. “I’m always happy to meet with the community and help answer any questions.” He presented the group with 10 years of local tax history and he explained how the Roxbury Board of Education has worked hard to keep the tax levy low.

“The taxation is bigger than the school district,” he said. “We don’t have control over taxation and equalization rates.”

The group’s next meeting has yet to be announced. Liddle explained it will be held after Roxbury’s Tax Grievance Day, which is scheduled for Thursday, May 24. Members who grieved their school taxes might discuss their results. Meanwhile, they’re continuing to gather information and research their options.