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REVIEW BOARD BURIED UNDER REVALUATION GRIEVANCES

The city's five-person Board of Assessment Review is trying to dig out from under a pile of grievances triggered by this year's revaluation of city property.

Patricia M. McGrath, chairwoman of the volunteer panel, said the group will be back in City Hall at 4 p.m. Monday to try to complete hearings for property owners who think their new assessments are too high.

The panel worked more than seven hours Tuesday night and almost eight hours Thursday, but still couldn't complete hearings for about 130 property owners who filed for grievance hearings.

In addition, the board has to deal with a stack of mail-in grievances from property owners who were willing to let their paperwork do the talking without coming in for a hearing.

McGrath said the board still has to decide where to set the assessed values for each of almost 200 affected properties. It hasn't decided on a single one yet, and the deadline for completing the tax roll is July 1.

The deadline to file a grievance was Tuesday, said Lena Villella, city real property appraiser.

"This isn't anything we didn't expect," Villella said. "Less than 2 percent of the properties in the city have a formal complaint. . . . This is not bad for a reassessment year."

The city sent out new assessments for city property this spring for the first time since 1990.

"In prior years, we've been able to make a decision right after the grievant left," said McGrath. But in prior years, there have been only a handful of complaints.

At the hearings, the property owner must submit a figure he thinks is a fair assessment, and the board compares it with the assessor's number. "We get to choose either number or somewhere in between," McGrath said.

Property owners who still aren't satisfied must take the city to court. Challenges to assessments on a person's primary residence are filed in Small Claims Court; State Supreme Court hears contested assessments for commercial or residential rental property.

McGrath said, "There's really no typical complaint, besides the obvious that they're unhappy with the assessed value or they wouldn't be there in the first place."

Some of the beefs seem to be concentrated in the area of Genesee and Washburn streets. "There are problems with the landlords, complaining they can't find decent tenants already, and if they have to raise rents to make up for higher taxes, it'll be harder," McGrath said.

A number of other grievances came from older residents in the area of Willow and Locust streets, perhaps the city's wealthiest neighborhood.

"Because people have been there a long time, their assessments are higher than people who have recently bought," McGrath said.

She said the board will try to make consistent determinations within neighborhoods.

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