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Town Board sides with taxpayers in bid to rescind new assessments

Taxpayers upset with the results of a townwide property revaluation here have gained their Town Board's cooperation in an attempt to rescind the final property assessment roll but will also resort to several other tactics to keep taxes lower.

As many as 500 taxpayers attended Tuesday night's board meeting, held in the Portville Central School auditorium to accommodate the unusually large crowd.

Some of those who attended the session are members of the recently formed Citizens for Fair Taxes, led by Kenda Stern, which has hired Buffalo attorney Anthony C. Parlato and threatened to sue the town.

They took turns at the microphone to demand action to reverse an unfair assessment that some say will increase their tax bills by as much as 300 percent.

On Wednesday, Supervisor David G. Witherell said in an interview that the board decided to rescind the final assessment roll if it is possible.

"We all decided to rescind it after hearing what went on. Things could be better. We learned a lot, and we have learned from our mistakes," he said.

Several speakers Tuesday night insisted they were denied the opportunity to grieve their assessments in May, and one resident said her grievance session was recorded, with the tape recorder turned off whenever the Board of Assessment Review could not answer her questions.

Appraiser Robert P. Strell, hired by Stern to challenge her assessment before the Board of Assessment Review, described the situation and the process as "chaotic." He cautioned taxpayers not to provide information to town officials that might be used in a future lawsuit.

Stern told the town officials and the taxpayers apologetically that she will proceed slowly with any legal action, stating "we are suing ourselves, but we have no alternative."

Town Attorney Michael Saglimben told the crowd that he believes it will be impossible to rescind the assessment roll at this point but promised to continue researching the matter. He suggested that an Article 78 lawsuit, in which citizens can sue public officials if wrongdoing is suspected, might not be vigorously opposed by the town and be settled in a compromise or an agreement.

After several taxpayers asked why town Assessor Vickie L. Tuttle was not present at the meeting, Witherell announced that he had received her resignation effective July 31 and would discuss what to do about it in an executive session later in the night.

Anxious residents, who sought copies of their records to appeal their assessments at the county level by a July 31 deadline, said Tuttle had not been in her office or available by phone for at least one day.

Witherell said that he was told by the assessor and the grievance board that all of the taxpayers who requested a grievance had gone through the proper review, but the Town Board was surprised Tuesday night to learn that 55 residents' requests were ignored.

Witherell said the town decided to do the revaluation because the equalization rates had dropped to 85 percent, and the cost of the data collection was only $11,000.

The board will meet in a special session at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Town Hall to revue the property values and discuss the appointment of a new assessor to serve out Tuttle's six-year term that ends Sept. 30. Witherell said he will be out of town on vacation and Deputy Supervisor Judy A. McClain will preside at the meeting.

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