Investigation finds wide gap in Syracuse property tax assessments

Dear subscriber,

If you’ve owned a home in Central New York for a while, you’ve likely at some point received that dreaded letter in the mail, notifying you that your assessment is going up. If you’ve lived here a while you probably know we have among the highest property taxes in the country, but it can be confusing and difficult to figure out if what you’re paying is fair. | Post-Standard reporters Michelle Breidenbach and Tim Knauss recently analyzed property tax assessments for homeowners in the City of Syracuse. They spent many weeks reviewing thousands of records, visiting houses, talking to families and consulting experts.

They came to the inescapable conclusion: Way too many of the assessments are wrong.

They found that these out-of-date assessments favor the more affluent homeowners and punish the poor. As assessments have failed to keep up with what people are paying for more expensive homes in the city, many upper-class families are saving hundreds, and in some cases thousands of dollars on their tax bills each year. Meanwhile, many houses in neighborhoods with the highest crime and poverty rates are over-valued, causing many poor homeowners to pay more than they should.

Digging deeper, Michelle and Tim found out that city officials have been aware of this problem for a long time, in fact they haven’t conducted a full reassessment of the 32,000 residential properties in the city in 20 years, blaming a lack of resources.

Mayor Walsh has since responded to our reporting and said he is committed to finding a solution to the problem, but it will take time. New York State doesn’t require cities to adhere to any specific reassessment schedule, but that doesn’t excuse what’s happened in Syracuse.

Tax Policy Center co-founder and SU professor Len Berman Tweeted about our reporting on this issue: “It’s an example of why local papers like Syracuse Post-Standard are so important.”

Your subscription helps support this kind of in-depth reporting, and we promise to keep looking into taxes and other pocketbook issues that matter to you.

For those of you who own homes outside the city, we’re not done looking into property tax issues. For all homeowners in CNY, we’ve pull together some resources for you to better understand how to fight an assessment you believe is unfair.

Published by Sept. 30, 2019

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