By Karen Keefe
Erie County Editor
Reassessments and revising the town’s website to make it more user-friendly were the key topics discussed at a Feb. 1 workshop meeting of the Town Board.
Joseph Emminger of Emminger Newton Pigeon & Magyar Inc. presented an update on the town property assessment project that had been delayed from last year. Town Assessor Judy Tafelski assisted with the presentation.
“We did not just trend up the values from last year,” Emminger said. “We didn’t leave the numbers where they were last year. We actually went out and we looked at all the residential parcels again.
“OK, when I say ‘looked at,’ we didn’t go out in the field this time, we desk-reviewed them,” he said.
“And I’m glad we did that, quite frankly, because the market is still very strong in Western New York and here on the Island for residential properties – not impacted by COVID by one iota.
Emminger said there were bidding wars going on, on most residential properties, and that has an impact on values. “Because of the market we’re seeing now, and the bidding wars we’re seeing now, people are paying more, quite frankly, and those people who were home buyers were getting penalized because we were going to their sale price, and their next-door neighbor, there was no sale. It actually helps in a lot of cases – I’m not saying all the cases… maybe to bring some of those values down from their sale price.”
“We’ve never done that before, and when things get back to maybe more normal, we won’t do it in the future, but I think it was warranted,” Emminger said.
“We try to be fair and equitable in the assessments. We want to make sure that everybody’s just paying their fair share of taxes.”
Emminger said his company has looked at all the parcels and is done with its valuations. The company will be uploading the values and getting them to the printer and the notifications will be sent out to residential property owners around March 1.
At that point, there will be informal hearings. “They can’t really be done in person. We’re doing them by phone, but there’s going to be an instruction sheet that they’ll get with their disclosure notice,” Emminger said. “We’ll have a phone number for them to call in with questions … and a number to call for an appointment for the phone hearing. We’re not relying on the people to call us, we’re going to call them,” he said. People will get five or 10 minutes to go over their property during the phone hearing. “There will be a dedicated email, that’s [email protected],” he said. “Then they can send us any information as part of their hearing for us to review.
By the end of April, property owners who challenge it will get another letter from the assessors, explaining what the result of the hearing was.
The phone hearings were started last year. “It’s not ideal, I’d like to have the one-on-one hearings. You know you’ve got to deal with the hand you’re dealt,” Emminger said.
There will be seven or eight people manning the phones.
There are 8,900 parcels. Emminger doesn’t expect more challenges than usual. Typically, they get about 400 informal hearings.
“If people are paying any attention to the real estate market, they’re going to know that their properties are going up in value,” he said. “And remember, this is a valuation project, not a taxation project. The assessor’s job and my firm’s job is to value the homes at fair market value.”
His firm will be putting information online the last week of February. The company has a PowerPoint done and will have an instructional video that residents can view online through the town’s website.
The company will begin scheduling appointments on March 8 or 9 and will handle the appointments all through the rest of March. The cutoff date for people to call in would be around March 15 or 16,” Emminger said. “That gives people two weeks from the time they get the notice to look at it. They can research sales on the town website.”
Town Board member Tom Digati asked Emminger about the people who may not be tech savvy. “Is there going to be a mailing address in addition to the email address, if they want to submit information in support of their challenge?”
Emminger said that although they hadn’t thought of that, they will afford people the opportunity to mail in to the town assessor’s office, which would then get the information to his company.
Council member Jennifer Baney said the timing is good for the assessment notifications because, with COVID restrictions easing up, libraries are open for those who need internet access to complete any request for a hearing.
Emminger said the project is right on target, timewise. He said people’s values have gone up. “The equalization rate this year, if you did not do the reassessment project, was going to drop to 73%. You’re at 83% now – a 10% drop. So you’re going to see increases of 10% and people are going to question that. But this is why you do a reassessment project. And this is why, when values start going down, you have to do a reassessment project, as well.” He said, “If people are going to get irate, I want them to get irate at me and my staff. I don’t want them to get irate with you,” he said of town officials. And he assured that his company will not get irate with callers. “People want to be heard.”
Baney said it’s important to do the education component early so people understand it’s a valuation project, not a taxation project. Your assessment can go up and your taxes can go down, Town Board members and Emminger stressed.
Digati said the last time there were people whose value went up, but their tax rate went down, and vice versa. “That’s the whole point of it, to level the playing field,” Digati said.
Information would be posted online and be accessible from a link on the town website.
Emminger said his company has been doing the revaluations for 15 years, and there hasn’t been a case where a town official lost their political race because of reassessments.
The workshop also addressed the requests for proposals for the town website design and implementation.
Digati said website redesign “was the result of quite a bit of work by the Technology Advisory Board. The Town Board OK’d an amended due date of March 5 for proposals to be submitted. Digati said the goal is to make the town’s website more user friendly. Later, at the regular Town Board approved, the amended due date for RFPs was extended to March 5 by a vote of 5-0
Also during the Town Board meeting, actions by the board included:
• Supervisor John Whitney announced the appointment of a police officer to the Town of Grand Island Police Department. Jackie Feggans was appointed police officer, B, Grade 7, Step A, with a pay rate of $22.12 per hour, effective Feb. 2, subject to preemployment paperwork.
• Councilman Mike Madigan introduced a motion, seconded by Councilman Tom Digati, to appoint Jennifer Pusatier and Brett Lombardo to two-year terms), and Dean Morakis as alternate, to the Agricultural Advisory Board. The motion passed 5-0.
• The board also unanimously approved a motion to authorize the supervisor to sign an application and approved a $250 application fee to apply for a working capital grant for the Economic Development Advisory Board, in an incentive proposal for Grand Island tourism and agritourism under a state study through Urban and Community Development Program. The motion was introduced by Council member Pete Marston and seconded by Council member Tom Digati.