Word that preliminary Amherst property assessments are rising by an average of 21 percent may alarm some town residents, but Supervisor Satish Mohan and appraisal consultants say the actual market value of town properties is going up by a more modest rate.
Mohan pointed out that while assessment numbers may be going up by 21 percent, the state considered Amherst's properties to be undervalued by 8 percent because the town ceased doing full annual property assessments in 2006.
In reality, the market value of town properties did not grow by 21 percent from 2006 to 2008, but rather by 12 percent, Mohan said. Robert Koszarek, president of the company performing the assessment review, supports that conclusion.
Town assessments, which are currently subjected to a 92 percent equalization rate, will once again be assessed at 100 percent after the reassessment process is complete.
Though national trends have shown the bottom falling out of the real estate market, town officials and regional real estate experts say this area never saw an overinflation of property values, so it's not seeing corresponding declines.
"The sky really isn't falling, at least not here, not yet," said Koszarek, president of KLW Municipal.
Letters will be going out to all property owners within the next week or two giving residents detailed information on how their 2009 property tax bills might change and how they can go about challenging their assessments by first meeting with KLW representatives.
It's likely that projected increases in town assessments will decline by several percentage points after the informal and formal grievance processes, Mohan said.
Despite the dramatic rise in preliminary assessment figures, the majority of Amherst homeowners may actually see a corresponding decline in their tax bill and the overall tax rate for town properties, Mohan and Koszarek said.
Property owners likely to see the biggest leaps in their tax bill will be those who own commercial buildings or live in condominiums, according to the initial findings by KLW, which has been working on the reassessment of Amherst properties for nearly a year.
Assuming town, county and school property tax levies are unchanged from this year to next, KLW's preliminary findings indicate:
65 percent of residential homeowners would see their property taxes stay the same or decline. Residential assessments would go up by an average of 17 percent.
83 percent of condominium owners would see their tax bills rise, with a fourth of all condominium owners seeing increases of $500 or more.