Written by Margaret Whitely Friday, 16 December 2011 00:00
At the regular meeting of the Williston Park Village members of the Standard Valuation Services were on hand to try and answer any questions residents had regarding the recent reassessment process in the village.
The meeting room on the upper floor of village hall was packed. At the outset Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar asked anyone with questions not to make them personal in the public session, but if they indeed had any questions as to why their property reassessment had been either increased or decreased, to put their name and telephone number on a list and a representative will call them back and speak to them in detail about their personal property.
Mayor Ehrbar said, “This process started for me back in May of 2010 when I first came into office. I looked at and discussed our budget numbers and our tax certioraris. For those who may not know what a tax certiorari is, it is when someone feels their property is over-assessed they file a tax certiorari and that process, which used to be in the county, has now come down to the village level. It requires court action and what tends to happen is that the person filing the tax certiorari gets a reduction in their taxes.
“Once that happens that property owner has reduced their taxes, the taxes have to be increased village-wide to make up for that reduced taxation. Just to give you a number, between 2009 and 2011 the village paid out $38,000 in legal feels to defend these cases and $530,000 in refunds. What this re-assessment process is attempting to do is to place a fair market value on everybody’s property so that the tax obligation is spread out in an equitable fashion throughout the village.
“When we started this process the numbers in the village were all over the place. People living next to each other in identical houses had a disparity in their taxes. So we are trying to level the playing field.
“This was a very difficult decision by the board to do this because a lot of people are not happy and some are. Just for the record, this is revenue neutral. If someone’s taxes went up $100 that doesn’t mean that the village is getting an additional $100 in taxes. Let’s say we have a dollar amount of $5 million and let’s say if yours goes up by $100 that means that the rest of the village will be compensated to allow for that $100 dollars. It will not give the village $5 million and $100 dollars, it just spreads the obligation more equitably throughout the village.
“Another aspect of this is that we passed what is called The Homestead Law, which will lock in the commercial tax rate at its current levels in future years. Right now that number has been changing. The percentage of their tax obligation has been going down while the residents’ tax obligation has been going up.”
Mayor Ehrbar continued, “Right now I am going to give you rough numbers which is roughly 80/20 percent; commercial is paying 20 percent and residents are paying 80 percent. If the process continues the way it has been set the resident obligation will more than likely move up to 90 or higher and the commercial will be 10 percent or less. So we are trying to lock in commercial to protect the homeowners in the future. In the long term the process should give the village a stable tax base and eliminate the tax certioraris and allow the village to budget in a more reasonable fashion.”
Mayor Ehrbar then turned the meeting over to Matthew Smith, Diane Miller, Michael Huber and Tom DiNato, of Standard Evaluation Services to explain the process.
Matthew Smith also said he would prefer if the residents would wait until the end of his presentation to ask questions.
Smith said, “This is probably the eighth or ninth village we have serviced including Mineola, Westbury and Farmingdale. I have ties to this village because growing up this is where I lived and I think this is one of the best revalues we have ever done. I think when you see the numbers you will see that they are truly textbook numbers.
Smith continued, “We are going to try to explain to you the benefits for you the residents of this process and after we will have a question and answer period. Why undertake this process? First and foremost whenever you have a tax situation, you, the residents should hope that you pay your fair share of taxes. And, at the end of the day, you will see that the value that this is based on will be a lot fairer than when you started.
“Increased taxpayer confidence and understanding, assessment and the way assessment works is complicated and what you had in the past is assessments that amount to $4,536 and you had to apply a different ratio and you came up with a full market value, - no more. Now that you’ve done a revalue and going forward, if your house is $450,000 and that’s what the assessment is you will see an assessment of 100 percent the market value or $450,000 and there will be no more guess work so it will be much easier to understand your future bills and at what level.
“The next item is very important because you have to make sure your assessment role and your market values are defendable. The mayor mentioned certioraris and the reason you didn’t hear that is that they mainly deal with commercial property. If your values aren’t defensible and a commercial property owner challenges their property, all of you residents are responsible for the refund. We had some serious flaws we had to correct in your commercial base and we were able to do that.
“Also, you want to make sure that your values are defendable on a residential basis and you haven’t had a revalue in a very long time, maybe the 30s or the 40s. Your values were all over the deck. You had values in the $200,000 on houses and then houses in the $500,000 and even $700,000s. I lived here, so I know that the value spread cannot go from $250,000 to over $1 million. I think we have corrected that as well.”
Smith said, “Now, I am going to explain what a re-evaluation is. It is a systematic way of estimating values. It ensures that all properties in the village are assessed at a uniform percentage of market value and the date that we used was January 1, 2012. What does a re-evaluation not do? It does not add revenue. This is not some scheme to add more money to the village coffers. Assessment is revenue neutral. If someone went up by $100 then maybe two people came down by $100 and a chart we have will actually show you who went up and who went down and by what. You will see it is very tight and very uniform.
“We started back in March and we had to obtain a lot of information, from the village, from Nassau County and through all the building permits. We are trying to go through all of the data that you have to make sure it is accurate. We had to look at all the sales in Williston Park over the last three years. Easier said than done. Because some sales aren’t arms length and some don’t make sense, so we had to cleanse them and take then out of the population.
“We also had to get information on commercial properties and sometimes that is a very complex project. Williston Park was very manageable. There were about 200 commercial properties from the mom and pop shop to an apartment complex. We had to gather and get income and expense on those, which we did and we had a lot of that in our offices, which are both located in Mineola. We had to review all this data and make sure it was done correctly and update our records. Then we had data verification and this is where all the residents were very helpful.”
Smith continued, “We sent out a property description report that had information that was pertinent to your particular home and we received back more than 53.7 percent which is a great number which means a lot of you participated, so thank you, because it made our job easier. In Williston Park we got back about 50 percent of the reports and that’s great because statewide they only get back about 15 percent of the reports.”
Smith went on to describe how they came to the process and how they are even now still updating material though zoning maps and aerial views. To ensure that similar properties are used to value similar houses and for this we used our GIS system. We look at natural and artificial boundaries and we look at location influences, economic factors and school districts and in Williston Park there are two.”
Smith said, “We recognized six residential neighborhoods and that’s a big difference from Nassau County. So, I know you are saying Nassau County says my property is worth a certain amount; what I would like you to focus on is what we said your property is worth. We broke this into six different neighborhoods. Nassau County had you combined into Herricks with one part and Mineola the other part. So you are using a lot of houses outside of your area. So, I think the values that we put on the properties will be a lot more consistent to Williston Park.”
He continued on as to how all the areas were surveyed and how each area has different style houses and he showed maps for all of these areas.
Eventually, after his description, the meeting was opened up to the public with Mayor Ehrbar, once again asking residents to please not to make each inquiry a personal one.
However, the majority of the folks who commented wanted to know why their properties were assessed the way they were and they had to be stopped and asked to put their names on the paper so that the folks at Standard Valuation could get back to them with specific information pertaining to their properties and the very long meeting finally ended.
The next Williston Park meeting will be held on Monday, December 19 at 8 p.m. at Williston Park Village Hall, 494 Willis Avenue.