Property reassessments are rarely popular. That is proving to be true again, this time in Cheektowaga.
After town residents received notices of the process, which is meant to ensure that property owners pay taxes based on the true value of their homes, hundreds of people turned out for an information session this week.
Happiness was in short supply.
“The residents in my neighborhood are dying off and the homes are getting flipped,” said Paul Kwiatkowski, 64, a longtime resident of Wheaton Drive who voiced his concern. “What was bought for $60,000, $70,000 is being sold for $150,000 and $170,000. That’s what is raising our taxes. I don’t have marble. I don’t have granite or fireplaces, but I keep the outside nice.”
In all, 35,000 residential and commercial properties were assessed, with many homes, like the one owned by Thomas Broad on Wabash Avenue, increasing more than $50,000 in value.
Broad, 37, works in his family’s concrete business, and said he faces a projected tax increase of $1,200 next year. He plans to challenge his assessment, claiming that he recently received a property appraisal that is "significantly lower" than what the town says.
“I feel that anytime I try to better my house, it’s costing me. It’s like I’m being penalized for it,” he said.
The residents have a supporter in the town supervisor's office. Diane Benczkowski reminded them that she was against the reassessment, which she said would hurt residents through "artificially high property values caused by an overheated housing market."
"While I respect the difference of opinion from my fellow board members, I want the record to be correct that I foresaw the public harm and outrage that we are now seeing since many Cheektowagans are now facing a personal crisis over these extravagant new assessments,” she said in a statement.
— Jane Kwiatkowski (@kwiatkowskiBN) March 10, 2020
But Councilman Gerald P. Kaminski, a frequent Benczkowski opponent, questioned the supervisor's efforts to derail the current revaluation. He noted that his home, in the town's south end on Losson Road, saw an assessment increase from $260,000 to $305,400. He said his projected property taxes increased $183, from $5,741 in 2019 to $5,924.
“I don’t think Diane totally understands it,” Kaminski said of the supervisor. “There are some people who were paying more than their fair share of taxes. This is about being fair.”
At Tuesday's information session, residents cheered many of the speakers, while interrupting representatives from the town assessor’s office and the appraisal firm of Emminger, Newton, Pigeon & Magyar Inc., who conducted the residential reval. GAR Associates carried out the commercial reassessment.
A property assessment is used by local governments and school districts to determine the amount of property taxes. The residential revaluation cost the town $590,000 due in four annual installments beginning with $310,000 in 2019, $80,000 each in 2020 and 2021, and $120,000 the final year.
Cheektowaga lawmakers had difficulty making up their minds on this revaluation, approving it in April 2019, rescinding it in October and finally reinstating it weeks later.
The current revaluation — the first townwide since 2014 – follows partial revaluations in 2015 and 2017, noted Town Assessor Michael Milks.
“We looked at neighborhoods. If homes were selling for more or less than they were assessed at, we addressed those neighborhoods – the French Road corridor, Losson/Como Park, parts of Depew, the northeast, the northwest. Over the course of the four years, it was probably 25% of the town,” Milks said.
Milks said he was not surprised to see the discord that greeted assessors and appraisers at the senior center.
“This time, there does seem to be a lot of sticker shock,” he said.
Joseph Roman of St. Boniface Road in north Cheektowaga, said this reassessment will be his fourth since 2008. He said despite flooding on his property, his assessment keeps going up and now sits at $139,000.
He said he has had enough and now wants to move out of town.
"Do me a favor and write me a check,” he told town assessors.