By Timothy Chipp
Town of Niagara officials are pondering a dirty word in government this summer that, if implemented, could have a big effect for years to come.
Reassessment may be in the near future, after town officials met with F. Cindy Baire, partner and co-president of GAR Associates, a real estate appraisal and analysis firm out of Williamsville.
Baire, along with Town Assessor James Bird, presented to town officials during Wednesday’s work session, informing them their assessments are entirely out of whack given the state of the housing and commercial real estate markets both locally and nationally.
“It’s not a pretty word,” Supervisor Lee Wallace said. “People don’t like it.”
How bad? The town is currently estimating land values at about 37% of the market rate when it comes to its property taxes.
This means, on average, the taxes an average homeowner is paying is significantly higher per $1,000 of assessed value than they should be.
Equalizing the values to the market would, therefore, drop the tax rate for entities like the Niagara Wheatfield Central School District, potentially lowering the costs to individual homeowners.
“People equate a reassessment to an increase in taxes,” Baire said. “But if they actually look back over the years, they’ll find their taxes actually went up and their assessment stayed the same.”
Assessments have some wide-ranging effects on residents, Baire added. Like with property tax exemptions in place to provide relief to groups like senior citizens.
With assessments low, she said, the impact of the exemptions is reduced, meaning residents aren’t receiving the full amount they should get if they’re eligible for the STAR or Enhanced STAR.
Low assessments also negatively impact the rate of sales tax collection from Niagara County, she said.
A reassessment also doesn’t affect the Town of Niagara much from a money collection aspect, either. With no general fund town tax, Niagara residents don’t pay much to the town.
The only taxes the town collects from property tax is a partial Highway Department tax, sewer, water and some special districts for public safety where only residents in those neighborhoods pay.
But, the impact could be big for entities like the school district and Niagara County. As taxing entities, they set a total amount of money to collect called a tax levy. They achieve it by setting a tax rate, which is based on the value of property across their control.
If assessments are 37% of the actual value, the rate will be significantly higher than if property is valued at its current market rate.
That, Wallace said, is why reassessments aren’t “money grabs” like opponents call them.
“They’re redistributions,” he said. “Some residents may end up paying more, while others will end up playing less. It all depends on the assessment.”
If reassessments are approved, the earliest impact, Bird told the board, would be in the September 2024 school district bill and the 2025 county and local tax bills.
The next Town Board meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 21, at Town Hall, 7105 Lockport Road.
In other town news, officials celebrated the start of operations of Niagara Depot Solar, an array the board approved inside the town’s dump dating back to before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The facility, located at 4798 Lockport Road, began its operations on June 1.
More importantly for the town’s business, the operation provides needed rent checks to the town, allowing officials to hold off on any townwide property tax.
A fee schedule calls for quarterly collections of roughly $13,900 this year, with rent increasing 2% every year through 2047.
The start of operations comes as the board continues deliberating the future of solar arrays in the town. A six-month moratorium on projects like this is under consideration at Wednesday’s meeting with the intent to allow the next board that takes over following the November election to make any decisions regarding similar power-generating projects.