Roxbury reval gets green light

By Dick Sanford
The Roxbury Town Board, meeting in a special session Thursday night, and faced with ample evidence that the town’s assessment role is badly in need of an overhaul, voted unanimously to move forward with a full-blown reassessment of all 3,300 parcels of real estate in the township.
The project will take three years to complete and cost somewhere between $48,200 and $69,700, according to an estimate prepared for the board by Roxbury Assessor Bob Breglio.

The meeting opened with a presentation by John Wolham who works for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance and is the Southern Region Director of the Office of Property Tax Services.

Tax background
Wolman gave the audience of 18 mostly Roxbury residents a background on the relationship between property assessments and taxes and noted that real estate taxes are based on assessment and have nothing to do with a property owner’s ability to pay. He stressed that New York State law requires that all properties must be assessed at the same percentage of true market value and said,

“There must be periodic attempts to make sure all property taxes are equal.” Roxbury has not done a reassessment since 1978. “It’s been a while,” he added.

Wolman explained that property in the Town of Roxbury is currently assessed for tax purposes at 31 percent of its true market value, yet inequalities in assessments exist because the assessment role is so badly out of date.

Wolman passed out a worksheet that listed 66 “arms-length” real estate sales in the town over the last year-and-a-half. The sheet listed a property description and class, the sale date, the total assessment, the sales price and then the ratio of the assessment to the sales price.

Range in ratios
The ratios ranged from a low of 3.30 percent for a 71.12-acre piece of vacant land on VanAken Road that was assessed at $21,340 and sold in June of last year for $647,273 to a high of 122 percent for a lumber yard/sawmill on county Highway 41 that was assessed for $122,000 and sold for $100,000 in January of last year. While those number were the extremes, most properties were in the 20 to 50 percent range.

Assessor Bob Breglio then spoke and explained the process of reassessment and the need to do it.
“It’s time to reassess and get assessments close to the value of property that has sold,” he said. Breglio than added, “Lower valued properties are being assessed at higher value than are higher valued properties. Low values are subsidizing higher value properties.”

Breglio went on to explain the process saying that the first step is to make sure that the town’s information in its inventory is accurate. This process has already begun.

“We’re pretty sure most of our inventory is good. We have to eyeball every piece of property in the same timeframe for the state to say that our list is good. We’ve found a few places where people have added stuff without a permit,” he went on to say.

He went on to say that he will use sales data from over the past four years so that he has a big enough database for it to be realistic. Then a valuation process is used to compare sales to similar properties. After a new assessment list is compiled, but before it is published, there is a special grieving process. Informal review meetings are held with town assessor before the role is published and values can be adjusted.

“The goal is a more equitable tax role,” he told the board. Assigning an assessment to a property, “is a judgment process based on several indicators, it isn’t math,” he went on to say.
Breglio has been an assessor for 26 years. He teaches at SUNY Albany and has consulted with other towns doing reassessments. He was the assessor for the Town of Olive, which reassessed it 3,200 parcels from a one percent equalization rate to full value. He most recently completed a revaluation in the Town of Broom. “I’ve been through this process several times,” he said. “I want everyone to pay their fair share, no more, no less,” he added.

Addressing the audience Roxbury Supervisor Tom Hynes said, “The town is committed to proceed to complete the process and I think that the rest of the board feels the same.”
The board then voted to proceed. The process will begin with a letter to all residents informing them of the reassessment effort and telling them how it will proceed.

Supervisor Hynes asked Breglio if there was a way to temper the effect of undeveloped land purchases by New York City, some of which he felt were at above market values, on local residents who own undeveloped land. Hynes, board members and others in the audience, expressed a fear that if city purchases drive assessment values, some locals could be forced to sell their land due to skyrocketing taxes. Breglio replied that he felt this could be done. Hynes asked, “Why can’t we pull out all city purchases. I don’t think they should be included.”

Also at the meeting were two Halcottsville residents representing a citizens’ group who feel they have been unfairly treated as a result of last year’s full value revaluation by the Town of Middletown. These residents live in the Town of Middletown yet are in the Roxbury Central School District, which overlaps into the Town Middletown. Their school taxes increased dramatically last year while other school district residents, who live in the Town of Roxbury and have their property assessed at 31 percent of market value, saw little or no increase in their 2011-12 school-year taxes. Assessor Breglio tried to explain to them that their problem rests in the fact that they were under assessed before the revaluation but there was little meeting of the minds on the issue.