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Newstead residents protest changes in tax assessments

It was standing-room-only in Newstead's Town Hall as residents expressed their anger and frustration with this year's revaluation project, which has seen assessment increases of as much as 150 percent on some houses.

Since receiving their tentative reassessments last month, residents have flooded the office of Town Assessor Rebecca Baker. At Monday evening's meeting of the Town Board, it was clear many feel their concerns aren't being met.

Resident Jim Fitzpatrick questioned how accurate and equitable the revaluation program could be when a house on Cedar Street was reassessed at $230,000 from $170,000 but then sold for $190,000. Joe Fry said he couldn't understand why a golf course he just bought for less than $2 million was valued at more than $3 million.

And representatives from Realty USA told the Town Board that out of nine Akron-area listings they checked, five of them were off by $9,000 to $40,000.

Some at the meeting aimed their bitternes at Baker, who was accused of mismanagement and unfairness, among other heated charges. Others aimed their anger at the state, the county and the board, which resident Kevin Borth said has been "asleep at the switch."

"At the end of the day, Becky Baker is the arm of the entity right here," said Borth, referring to the board.

Borth said he doesn't see the town's tax policies reflecting the community's desire to preserve its agricultural flavor. Instead, Newstead is losing the people that make it Newstead because of the "horrible" job by local politicians, he said.

"This is a dying area," said resident Don Nicholas. "We can't afford this. These people can't afford this."

Supervisor David Cummings stressed that Newstead receives only a small part of residents' tax payments, the bulk of which goes to the county, state and school district. Cummings thanked the crowd for providing a "tremendous amount of valuable opinions" and said the board would meet with Baker to discuss changes to the reval before it is finalized.

Many in attendance called for the reval to be scrapped and done over from scratch. Without a reval, which is done every three years in Newstead, the town's residential equalization rate would be 87 percent of its market value, Baker said.

Baker said she understands people's perspective and aggravation, especially with two-thirds of Newstead facing an increase, many of them significant. She urged an adherence to the procedure for reassessment grievances, adding she will continue to meet with concerned residents.

Baker was stunned by accusations that she gave lower assessments to herself and friends. Cummings denied any such practices.

"It's very hard to sit there and say nothing," Baker said. "I'm probably as unpolitical as it comes."

Fred Pask, the town's previous assessor, defended Baker's work, saying she wasn't just pulling numbers from a hat. The data is what it is, he said.

But residents had a hard time believing Baker's methods could yield true values without doing a better job of including factors such as a home's location and interior condition.

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