A group of taxpayers, fuming over what they say are irregularities in the Town of Portville's property revaluation, are preparing to file a lawsuit on behalf of all town property owners to have it thrown out.
The group, Citizens for Fair Taxes, resolved to sue the Town Board last week after learning the board members would not follow through with an earlier decision to vote to rescind the assessment roll.
The assessment roll, which increases the town's total assessed value by 26 percent to $171,227,351, has already been turned over to the Cattaraugus County treasurer and was considered final July 1.
"At this point, according to law, it is not in our power. The board can't vote to have the roll rescinded," said Deputy Town Supervisor Judy A. McClain.
She is in charge in the absence of Town Supervisor David G. Witherell and has been working with the board and Town Attorney Michael Saglimben to research the procedures followed in the revaluation and the assessment data on file. She said she tried to explain this to the 300 people attending a special meeting held in Westons Mills last week.
Saglimben said he has no doubt Citizens for Fair Taxes will file an Article 78 lawsuit in Cattaraugus County Supreme Court within the next two or three weeks as a challenge to the town government's actions. He said this is the only recourse available to have the assessment roll lifted.
Such a lawsuit would name not only the town as a defendant but would include the county, the Portville Central School District, Assessor Vicki L. Tuttle, and Appraisal Consultants of Rochester, the contractor hired to collect the data and help complete the assessment roll. Citizens for Fair Taxes claims a membership of 740 property owners, almost half the 1600 residential parcels listed in the tax roll. The group claims they can show irregularities in their assessments and said at least 55 property owners have sent notes to the organization indicating they were refused a grievance appointment.
Saglimben said the board will need some time to decide whether to defend the assessment roll or to reach some negotiated settlement with the plaintiffs.
Kenda Stern, who leads Citizens for Fair Taxes, said she has collected complaints of incorrect or incomplete property data records and allegations that Tuttle did not attend some grievance sessions run by the contractors.
Many members have seen a 100 to 200 percent increase in assessments despite a lack of any improvements. One landowner has attempted unsuccessfully for seven years to have the Board of Assessment Review remove a $16,000 assessment for a non-existent barn, while others have noticed their records incorrectly show attached garages, non-existent buildings or a second story, Stern added.