The number of Buffalo property owners fighting City Hall over increases in their assessments has hit a six-year high.
More than 2,900 residents and business owners have filed challenges, a 60 percent increase from last year. Not since 2001 have so many property owners flooded City Hall with assessment grievances. That year, more than 3,600 people filed challenges.
The volume of complaints increased so dramatically this year that city officials set up a second conference room to hold grievance hearings, which started this week.
Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto isn't surprised the volume has skyrocketed. Many neighborhoods in his district were hit the hardest last fall when the city sent letters to more than 12,000 homeowners and 800 businesses informing them of proposed increases. If left unchallenged, LoCurto said, some people's assessments will jump 75 percent over two years.
"It seems unreasonable unless they struck oil in their backyards," LoCurto said.
But Bruna Michaux, the city's commissioner of assessment and taxation, insisted that homeowners in some neighborhoods haven't had to discover oil for their properties to climb in value. She said one only has to pick up newspapers to see how real estate values are increasing in many neighborhoods.
"Just look at how much people are paying for some of these properties," Michaux said Friday. "A lot of people have a strong desire to move into the Elmwood Village, Allentown, North Buffalo and some other areas."
Michaux said assessors have done a "thorough and extensive" job in evaluating properties, adding that the state carefully oversees the process. State law requires the city to reassess properties.
Still, she noted that people have a legal right to challenge their assessments. "If property owners feel they're overassessed, we encourage them to challenge. But they need to provide evidence to substantiate it."
The best documentation would include data from recent real estate sales involving comparable properties, Michaux said. She also encouraged people to request interior inspections by assessors if they think the city has incorrect information about amenities in their properties.
Last year, about 56 percent of the people who challenged increases in their property assessments received some reduction through the grievance process. Some individuals who were not satisfied with the results went to court and obtained relief.
LoCurto estimated that his office will assist about 250 property owners with assessment challenges. The lawmaker already has attended three such hearings on behalf of constituents.
LoCurto won Council approval for a four-day extension in submitting assessment grievances, which had to be filed by Jan. 5.
The independent seven-member Board of Assessment Review will continue hearings through mid-February. The city must finalize its tax rolls by March 1.