When Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein was a member of the Erie County Legislature, he received a letter from the town informing him that his home had a new assessed value.
"They sent me a notice that my assessment was reduced to $18,000," he said. "I got frantic. I went in and I told them, 'You can't do this to me.' They looked it up and said it was a typo, it's really $180,000. I said, 'Thanks.' I wanted to make sure I was fairly assessed."
A townwide reassessment, like the one Amherst is conducting now, can be a contentious process as owners' property values are adjusted up or down, which affects how much in taxes is owed. It can be especially fraught if there's a perception that elected officials are getting a break.
But the numbers show Amherst's elected officials all received increases in their tentative assessments last month.
The assessment on Weinstein's Maple Road home increased by $50,000, from $255,000 in 2016 to $305,000. That 20 percent increase in assessed value is average for residential properties in the town during this reassessment. His home's full market value based on those assessments increased from $280,200 to $305,000.
"The process is done fairly," said Weinstein. "It's completely above board. They look at sales and they use these sales to project what we'd get if we put our house on the market."
Here's how the assessments changed on homes owned by other elected Amherst officials:
- Councilmember Ramona D. Popowich's home on Glen Oak Drive increased from $195,500 to $252,000. The full market value increased from $214,800 to $252,000.
- Councilmember Francina J. Spoth's home on Forest Hill Drive increased from $134,500 to $158,000. The full market value increased from $147,800 to $158,000.
- Councilmember Deborah Bruch Bucki's home on Halston Parkway increased from $377,800 to $388,000. The full market value of that home decreased from $415,200 to $388,000. A condo she owns on Blacksmith Drive increased from $123,000 to $180,500. The full market value increased from $135,200 to $180,500.
- Deputy Supervisor Steven D. Sanders' home on Sunrise Boulevard increased from $182,600 to $185,000. The full market value decreased from $200,700 to $185,000. "I'm disappointed that my assessed value didn't go up more," Sanders said. "I'd like to think my neighborhood is more desirable."
- Town Clerk Marjory Jaeger's home on Pasadena Place increased from $166,500 to $214,000. The full market value increased from $183,000 to $214,000.
Town Assessor David C. Marrano said elected officials are treated no differently than anyone else in the town.
"We treat every property owner as a property owner, irregardless of who they are or what their position is," said Marrano, who is not a town resident and was personally unaffected by the reassessment. "We were fair to everyone."
Weinstein said his home's assessment also increased during the last townwide reassessment in 2009, and again in 2014 when certain neighborhoods were reassessed. He challenged the new assessments both times through the town's review process and reached a compromise.
That's what he's considering doing now.
"I'm looking at comparables and deciding what to do," he said.
Informal assessment reviews will be held in March and April through appointments made by calling 1-866-910-1776 or online at garappointments.garappraisal.com. Research tools for the review process, including sales books to look at what comparable properties sold for in each neighborhood, are available on the town's website.
Residential property owners have three attempts to challenge their new assessment. First, during the informal review, then on May 23 before the Board of Assessment Review, which is made up of local real estate professionals, and, if they're still unhappy, by filing a small claims assessment review in court. Commercial property owners may file an Article 7 court challenge.
"I urge people to challenge every chance they get," said Weinstein. "If you're not happy with your assessed value, it's a very homeowner-friendly process. You go on the internet and find some comparables. You schedule an appointment and they're very friendly. The worst that can happen is nothing changes, but more likely there will be a compromise of some sort."