Despite pandemic, hot 2019 real estate market hikes 2020 property assessments

Thousands of people who own property in suburban Syracuse are being notified that the assessed values of their homes, businesses and farms are increasing.

It’s unfortunate timing as the coronavirus has shut down all non-essential workplaces. As many as 80,000 Central New Yorkers are out of work and more face future furloughs, pay cuts or even permanent workplace closure.

The financial uncertainty has put assessors in an awkward position. State law requires them to make sure everyone pays a fair share of property taxes. They are tied to an annual schedule that doesn’t make practical sense to people opening the mail this week.

Hikes in both commercial and residential real estate assessments are based on a booming real estate market leading up to the pandemic.

Because of the sudden economic downturn, the village of Liverpool passed a resolution to formally ask the town of Salina to freeze assessments at last year’s levels.

But the town went ahead with new assessments. They notified 6,000 people that their assessments were going up, Assessor Denise Trudell said.

“We didn’t have any other choice,” she said. “In order to maintain equity and ensure a proper distribution of the levy by all taxing entities, we had to update assessments.”

The town of Manlius mailed letters to more than 9,000 of its 14,000 property owners, letting them know their assessments were changing.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that allows towns to delay the process by one month. Tully and Geddes are the only towns in Onondaga County to delay. (The city of Syracuse revises assessments in January.)

The order does not allow towns to freeze assessment levels at last year’s rates.

There are several reasons a freeze would not be fair. For example, someone who built a new home would essentially get a tax-free year while their property continues on the books as vacant land.

Someone whose property was demolished would pay an extra year on a building that no longer exists. pulled assessments for each town into a searchable database. You can see whether assessments went up, down or stayed the same for more than 132,000 commercial, residential and farm properties.

Here’s how it works:

By May 1 of each year, assessors have to estimate a value for each property that matches the market value. That amount is used to determine the amount of taxes each property owner pays. (Taxes are charged at a rate per $1,000 of value.)

Assessors have to base this year’s values on housing sale prices from July 1 to July 1 of the year before. That means the numbers coming out now are based on market prices from early 2019.

The housing market was booming in 2019 and in January and February of this year, assessors said.

“The marketplace is what the marketplace is. It was very hot,” Manlius Assessor Pat Duffy said. “I’m not even so sure the marketplace is hurting right now.”

There have been fewer home sales during the coronavirus pandemic. But it is too early to tell whether the prices have dropped, he said.

So far, assessors say the arguments are typical: You’re trying to raise our taxes.

Assessors are ready with a response: Assessors don’t set tax rates. That is done by school districts, counties, towns and villages — the governments that raise and spend money.

“The reaction I’m getting is not pandemic related,” Duffy said. “It’s just, ‘I don’t think my house is worth that much.’ It goes back to the old argument: Do you know what you’re doing to our taxes?”

There is an opportunity to make an argument. Each town holds a “Grievance Day,” typically at the end of May or beginning of June. Property owners can argue with the assessors’ estimates before a panel, the Board of Assessment Review.

The state’s executive order allows Grievance Day hearings to be held virtually this year. Some towns will use online platforms like Zoom. Others are encouraging property owners to mail in the forms and forego an in-person hearing.

Check your town for dates and procedures.

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