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Assessment grievance deadline extended Property owners in city get more time to submit challenges to tax office

The Common Council is giving property owners more time to fight City Hall, and some people who think their proposed assessments are unfair already have filed challenges.

About 120 property owners have submitted complaints, but some officials predict the number could approach or even exceed 2,000 challenges within two weeks.

The Council unanimously approved a bill extending the process for filing grievances to Jan. 5. The tax office originally set a Jan. 2 deadline for submitting assessment challenges. Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto, whose district was among the hardest hit by rising assessments, thinks giving people a few extra days to file is fair. He said some homeowners would see assessments increase by 75 to 90 percent.

"Many assessments went up so high in the Delaware District that it forced people to make decisions like whether to challenge their assessment or sell their house," LoCurto insisted.

Earlier this month, more than 12,000 homeowners and nearly 800 businesses received letters informing them of increases. Tax officials said strong home sales continue to drive up real estate values.

But attorney Peter Allen Weinmann, who specializes in assessment cases, said many clients who are facing huge increases are upset. One complaint is that the city performs its assessment process in phases over several years. As a result, Weinmann said some property owners face big increases, while people living nearby are spared. Buffalo should spend the money to perform a citywide assessment all at once, he said.

"They're taking the cheap and easy way out," he said. "It's to the detriment of property owners who get hit early in the process."

Last year, about 1,800 of the 7,200 property owners who faced higher assessments challenged the city. More than 1,000 of those who filed grievances received some relief. Hearings will begin Jan. 3 and continue through early February.

Assessment and Taxation Commissioner Bruna Michaux noted that some individuals who did not get the relief they sought through hearings held by the Board of Assessment Review took their cases to court. Some homeowners, including many who live on affluent streets such as Nottingham Terrace and Middlesex Road, succeeded in getting a judge to cut their assessments.

Assessment grievance forms can be obtained by visiting the tax office in City Hall or through the city's Web site at www.city-buffalo.com. For more information, call 851-5733.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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