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Mayor may reassess assessments

Buffalo's property reassessment methods might be getting an extreme makeover.

Mayor Byron W. Brown on Friday directed city legal experts to determine whether Buffalo could impose a cap on how many times properties are reassessed in a six-year period.

Brown expressed concern over new data showing that thousands of property owners have seen their properties reassessed four times since 2002, while 27 neighborhoods in the city saw revaluations only once in eight years.

"[Property owners] say, 'How is that fair?' " Brown asked during a discussion with members of Buffalo's accountability panel.

City officials also decided Friday to scrutinize a map used by assessors that divides Buffalo into 120 neighborhoods. City officials think the boundaries are causing assessment inequities.

"The neighborhoods need to be looked at, there's no question about," said First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey during Friday's CitiStat meeting.

The city is even weighing taking a more dramatic step.

Buffalo and many other localities are part of a state program that calls for the reassessment of every parcel at least once every six years. Municipalities must comply with the mandate to qualify for state funding. In Buffalo's case, the state aid amounts to $400,000 a year, said Assessment and Taxation Commissioner Martin F. Kennedy.

The city is looking into withdrawing from the state program, a move that could give the city more flexibility in revaluing properties. While the city would have to forfeit the $400,000, Brown said it might end up saving money.

"If it's costing us more to go through all the [assessment] challenges than [the city receives] from participating in the system, then maybe we should just opt out of the system," he said.

Kennedy stressed that even if Buffalo pulls out of the state program, the city still has a legal duty to make sure that assessments fairly reflect values.

Two weeks after administration officials questioned his department's revaluation methods, Kennedy presented a detailed explanation of how assessors perform their annual reviews. It begins with a computer analysis that determines how sale prices compare with assessments. Major deviations in certain areas trigger revaluations.

"The review of neighborhoods is market-driven by sales," Kennedy said.

When properties in high-appreciating neighborhoods see their assessments every other year, it merely reflects what's happening in the real estate market, Kennedy said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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