The significant number of assessment challenges in the Town of Amherst may have resulted from property owners stunned by big jumps in their assessments deciding to partake in the civic process, including court challenges. Or it could be the result of an organized plan by companies that make a living out of challenging assessed values.
Officials in the Town of Amherst are preparing for a process that, if it leads to court proceedings, could stretch two to three years. Indeed, there is much work ahead.
Amherst just completed a townwide reassessment for the first time since 2009, and with the town a hot real estate market, it’s no surprise that many property owners saw their assessments spike.
Along with assessment notices, homeowners also received mailings from private companies offering to perform the challenge work, with no charge to customers if the assessment was not reduced.
Formal grievances were filed on about 4,500 properties, compared, as News staff reporter Joseph Popiolkowski wrote, with only about 150 grievances filed in 2016 with the town’s Board Assessment Review. This year’s cases included 2,000 condominiums from 32 condo associations and about 300 commercial properties.
Many of those filing grievances skipped the first step in the assessment process. Just 2,800 parcels went through an informal review. As Popiolkowski’s article pointed out, some owners of multiple properties and large developers may have wanted to skip the informal reviews in favor of dropping off their paperwork for consideration by the Board of Assessment Review.
The board is expected to notify property owners of its decisions in the first week of July, after the final assessment roll has been determined.
Court cases could get costly as the town defends against the challenges. The last townwide revaluation in 2009 cost the municipality more than $740,000 in legal fees in response to 332 petitions.
And even if the town wins a case, it does not get more tax dollars. Reassessment is not supposed to increase the total collected in taxes; it is meant only to distribute the burden fairly.
This year, town officials are attempting to be proactive in hopes of saving more than half a million dollars in legal fees. The Town Board last month appointed the senior deputy attorney to a full-time position, effective July 1, to manage what is called Article 7 tax certiorari legal proceedings. Officials are also allocating clerical support.