Schenectady County

Complaining pays off for Schenectady homeowners

About 500 property owners saw their new assessments reduced Friday after proving that their houses a

About 500 property owners saw their new assessments reduced Friday after proving that their houses are not as valuable as the assessor thought.

They got reductions after meeting with Assessor Patrick Mastro for informal reviews. Primarily, reductions were given to owners who had not allowed inspectors into their house but changed their minds after inspectors made slight errors in estimating the condition, number of bedrooms and other factors.

Taxpayers also learned Friday that they will be able to claim the full STAR exemption for school taxes this year, allowing them to chop $30,000 off their assessment for purposes of determining the school tax.

Last year, residents could cut only $20,610 off their assessments for the school tax.

Residents will get the higher exemption now because the school district decided to use the new assessments when it calculates taxes this summer. Tax bills will be printed in mid-July, two weeks later than normal, to allow time for the changeover.

The state Office of Real Property Services pressured the district to use the new assessments, which it said are much more accurate than last year’s values. Using old assessments left some taxpayers paying on houses they had demolished, while others who built new construction didn’t have to pay taxes for a year. ORPS officials criticized the practice as inherently unfair.

The Schenectady City School District was the last hold-out in the state. Every other school district had long ago shifted to using current-year assessments, ORPS officials said.

But because the new assessments will be certified July 1, the district can’t mail its bills June 30. The time frame was a particular concern this year, since many residents grieve their property values during a reassessment and may get changes at the very end of the process.

So far, 40 percent to 45 percent of the 1,200 grievers have gotten a reduction. The others can grieve again, filing a formal complaint with the Board of Assessment Review between now and May 26.

Many of the reductions announced so far reflect the sorts of errors created when assessors have poor data. Mastro found many errors in data cards when he became city assessor, which is why he tried to inspect the interior of every building to get solid data for the reassessment.

Many residents refused to allow inspectors into their homes but welcomed them during the informal review process as they tried to prove that data about their homes were incorrect.

Mainly, the errors were in the number of bedrooms or bathrooms. But others complained that their assessment did not reflect the poor condition of their house.

“People said, ‘The inside of my house is almost unlivable. We have ceilings coming down,’ In some cases, they gutted the property and haven’t been able to continue the work for some reason,” Mastro said. “How did we not know it was gutted? Because we couldn’t get in there. We went back and inspected. If there’s a discrepancy, it’s incumbent on me to straighten it out.”

Letters announcing the reductions were mailed Thursday.

Some property owners said they were satisfied with their reduction, even though their assessments are still much higher than they were last year. They calculated that with the new city tax rate of $12 per $1,000 (down from this year’s rate of $20.85 per $1,000), they ended up with a lower tax bill even though their assessments went up.

The tax rate will fall precipitously because most assessments increased significantly. For many residents, it worked out to a wash — they will still pay the same amount as they did before. The tax rate may still go up if the City Council approves a tax increase this fall.

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