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Town Board agrees to restart annual revaluations

After a brief pause, Amherst is starting annual revaluations of properties again, a rite that never fails to raise taxpayer ire and one that was temporarily halted earlier this year by town Supervisor Satish Mohan.

Amherst Assessor Harry Williams said Friday his office is gearing up for a full-blown revaluation in which all 43,000 parcels in the town will be reassessed.

Nearly all of them will be visually inspected, at least from the outside, as well, he said.

"There will be some vacant land we won't look at," Williams said. "But that's about it."

Until recently, Amherst was one of only a few towns in New York that annually reassessed properties and maintained their values at 100 percent. The town was swamped, though, with complaints about inaccuracies, and when Mohan came into office the revals were put on temporary hold.

The Town Board agreed last Monday to restart the process.

Williams said he expects as many taxpayer complaints as ever -- maybe more, since values appear to be still rising in Amherst even as the nation's housing market is trending downward.

Values are "still going up. Not as fast as last year, but they are still going up," Williams said.

Annual reassessments are conducted to determine which values have gone up, down or remained unchanged. The idea behind it is that no one will end up paying more or less in taxes than the current value of the property dictates.

That is a hard sell, though, in a region with one of the nation's highest property tax loads.

The October snowstorm could increase reassessment problems this year, Williams said. He also said property owners seem to think that trees lost to the storm will mean automatic decreases when the parcels are reassessed.

Wrong. First his office will need to track sales of homes where trees were destroyed or damaged to determine if prices really did drop.

Mostly, though, Williams said he is worried that the attitude of property owners, particularly homeowners, seems to have changed for the worse over the years.

"I think people are less honest than they were," he said.

Homeowners "used to be proud of their homes. Now they want to tell you how terrible [their homes] are" so they can get a reduced value and a break on their taxes, he said.

As it now stands, Williams is looking for outside consultants to help with the reval. Mohan has said he hopes to spend half of what the town was paying to GAR Associates, the private consultants the town previously used.

Look for the new assessments in March, Williams said.

In the meantime, Williams said his office will mail out forms to property owners asking questions about the condition of their property. Not many property owners return those forms, but he is hoping more will do so this time.

He also plans to hold more public information sessions with property owners to explain how revaluations are conducted.

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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