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To reval or not to reval, that is the question

December 10, 2008 - John Stack
The Town of Tupper Lake has decided to embark on another reassessment project. To this end, they have contracted with KLW Associates for around $200K. This is not small change for a town of Tupper’s size. It is a good idea that they are spreading the payments over 3 years. This week Danny Lancor (who happens to be my boss) spoke to the town board about the project. One big point he made was that the town board had to be behind the project for it to succeed. It seems that in 2008, that may have not been so. The many different tacks the town board took during the project, while individually may have had good reasoning, the constant barrage of misinformation and different plans by the board to correct it only had the effect of causing a near complete distrust in the project by the public.
            And guess what. It wasn’t a bad project. There will always be problems in a reassessment, especially one undertook at a period where there has been great volatility and incredible increases since the prior reassessment. Statistically, the project was a success. And now, with sales coming in since the values were initially placed on the file, the prior assessor’s values are standing up to the new sales prices pretty well. In a project of such change, there were relatively FEW people grieving their assessments! In a town Tupper Lake’s size, typically for a project like this 300-600 people would be expected to complain directly to the assessor at informal hearings or the BAR. Not a third of this number showed up in Tupper, even with the hew and cry!
            Many people complain saying their house was incorrectly described, in that they don’t have a ½ story, or their basement isn’t finished. But, there were many opportunities for the taxpayer to correct these problems. People complain that the assessor admitted some of the data was wrong. Well, that’s exactly what is expected! It was impossible to get into every house and interview every homeowner. And, many homeowners refused access to the data collectors, yet complained the data was wrong! Try to figure out that circular logic!
            The Board of Assessment Review (BAR) seemed to only throw gasoline on the fire. I’ve heard stories of the BAR soliciting people to come and grieve their assessments! At the very least, this looks unethical. Then, for all of the BAR members to get a decrease in their own assessments (and they are all waterfront owners, the biggest complaining group in virtually all reassessment projects). Maybe the reductions were justified, but it sure doesn’t look good. But then also, Mr Lancor also showed a number of sales where the BAR had drastically reduced a value, only for it to sell for much more than Larry Cole’s initial value.
            This new contractor, KLW should set many residents fears to rest. In my job as a liaison for the State, I worked with this group in the Southern region of NY, and they are an extremely competent group. It is an appraisal firm first, and a reassessment group second. The collection and valuation should be up to the highest levels. But, even with a company that is about as good as money can buy, many people will still complain. Many of the exact same people will complain. Even with every avenue of redress available, they will complain. The company will visit every single parcel in town, and attempt to speak with every homeowner. They will leave door hangers for people to call if they still have questions. They will send out data mailers and give the people another opportunity to make sure their data is correct. In the spring of 2011, they will also hold informal meetings prior to tentative roll to work things out. Homeowners still have the BAR and Small claims court if they still aren’t satisfied. But write down the names of the biggest complainers of 2008. The good money is they’ll have their names in the paper again in April 2011.


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