NIAGARA FALLS – Nearly 100 people packed City Council Chambers on Tuesday night to vent their anger about plans for a citywide reassessment of property tax values.
The Council also learned more about plans for a reassessment of city properties from Assessor James Bird, Robert Wright of the state Office of Real Property Tax Service, and F. Cindy Baire, vice president of the assessment firm GAR Associates.
Wright pointed to the state’s role in overseeing and guiding the process to ensure a fair and equal reassessment, and noted the importance of regular updates, and that the city assessment roll has not been updated in 14 years.
The tax equalization rate is 85 percent overall, but residences are assessed at a rate of 91 percent of their actual value, while businesses are underassessed at 56 percent of their value, Wright said.
With a two-tier tax system, businesses pay a tax rate that is nearly twice the rate homeowners pay. Bird said many larger businesses are underassessed and are not paying their fair share of school and county taxes.
One goal for the equalization is to bring the two-tier tax system closer together and also make sure each homeowner is being fairly assessed, both Wright and Bird said.
“It does not mean more revenue for the city,” Wright said.
“The property tax burden is very difficult, but we just want to make if fair,” said Baire, who added that reassessments were a way to “level the playing field” and monitor if there is a market decrease or increase.
She said it would take nearly two years to do a full reassessment of the 23,000 properties in the city.
Council Chairman Andrew Touma opened the meeting by cautioning that reassessment is not imminent or certain. He said the Council wants to analyze home-buying trends and hear from businesses.
At a cost of $800,000 or more for a citywide reassessment, Touma said officials also are looking for state or grant funding.
He also cautioned against turning the forum into “political theater.”
However, many at the City Council meeting on Tuesday took aim at the Council, complaining about topics ranging from rats, to snowplowing and garbage collection and the still-vacant railroad passenger station.
One unnamed speaker walked to the microphone and told those assembled to just stop paying taxes, to the cheers and applause from the crowd.
Charles Mattar of Seneca Street said his house was robbed and his house was not safe.
“The entire city needs a complete overhaul of all the departments to become more efficient,” he said. “The leaders are not good stewards of our money.”
Jamie Caldwell of North Avenue said, “Nobody likes taxes, but people may not feel as bad if they got more bang for their buck – if they felt their city money was being used wisely. I feel like there is a lot of mistrust.”
Frank Soda of McKoon Avenue offered a different appraisal.
“We heard three very credible professionals on the topic of real property, appraisal, and property taxation and unfortunately tonight we’ve reduced their presentation to a collaboration of deceit. I don’t know how we got there.”
Soda also said state property tax law mandates fairness and lack of bias of the assessment roll in the city.