Irene: $16M washed off Schoharie tax rolls

Tropical storms Irene and Lee washed away more than 40 percent of the private property value in the

Categories: Business, Schenectady County

Tropical storms Irene and Lee washed away more than 40 percent of the private property value in the village of Schoharie, cutting the tax roll by an estimated $16 million.

Assessors throughout the county are compiling property value figures for the 2013 tax year, and losses estimated for the village and town of Schoharie and the towns of Esperance and Wright reveal only a fraction of the flooding’s toll, according to county Real Property Tax Services Director Marjorie Troidl.

More precise figures are expected by May 1. As of Friday, the village and the three towns are estimating a combined assessment reduction of $20 million.

The biggest loss by far was seen in the creekside village of Schoharie, which assessor Steven Rubeor said lost roughly $16 million in taxable property value. The village’s tax roll for 2011 listed a total of $39.25 million in taxable property. The 2012 total could not be obtained Friday.

Schoharie Mayor John Borst on Friday said the assessor’s estimates include post-flood property sales that in some cases reflect emotion more than true value.

Some people decided to walk away and took the opportunity in some cases to sell their homes for as little as $15,000.

“The recent sales in the village are so distressed that they’re unrealistic,” said Borst, who said the current estimate is likely the lowest point on a curve that’s in an upward direction thanks to the massive, volunteer-driven reconstruction effort under way.

He said one village resident was offered $5,000 for a house two months ago, rejected the offer and recently got an offer for $25,000.

“Things are in flux, so the problem is if the assessor takes a snapshot of the values at this point in time, he’s probably about as low as he can go,” Borst said.

“Unfortunately, our village probably took, for the size of it, the biggest whack. But we’re going to get through it. We’re going to make the adjustments that we need to make,” he said.

As the total assessed value goes down, the property tax rate must go up to bring in the same amount of money — meaning that remaining homeowners could be facing massive tax increases unless spending is cut or other revenue is found. But property tax bills won’t reflect the new assessment numbers until 2013, so for now Borst said the village will be cutting spending and trying to save some money in anticipation of the revenue losses.

He said he’s seeing a change of attitude in people he meets in the village — some who told him months ago they’d had enough and were leaving are instead saying Schoharie is their home and it’s where they want to live.

“I love this village and there’s a bunch of other people I talked to in the same boat,” Borst said. “As bad as it is, we’re going to be all right. I think we’ve got some very resilient people and we’ve got a tremendous amount of volunteers that are coming in,” he said.

Village Councilman Larry Caza expressed similar optimism Friday.

“Obviously we took quite a hit with the flood and we’re just going to have to do whatever we can, whatever needs to happen to keep afloat,” he said. “There are days when it looks pretty dark and it looks pretty bad but like so many things it’s a process and we’re working through it.”

The town of Schoharie lost about $1 million in taxable value while the town of Esperance saw roughly $3 million worth of private property disappear into the Schoharie Creek. The town of Wright took the brunt of its damage in roads and other infrastructure and lost only about $125,000 in private property value, Rubeor said.

U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who currently represents the 20th Congressional District and is running to represent the newly redrawn 19th Congressional District, which includes Schoharie County, introduced himself to the county lawmakers Friday.

Schoharie Town Supervisor Gene Milone told Gibson the flooded municipalities will need more financial help to overcome the losses in taxable value.

“How do we operate without some money to replace losses … where is it going to come from?” Milone said.

Gibson later Friday said he and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who currently represents Schoharie County in Congress, have been making disaster recovery a priority.

Gibson said many of the 137 towns he represents were affected by the disasters and he would embrace Schoharie County with the same attitude.

“I work very hard for them in regard to storm relief. It is our No. 1 priority in our office,” he said. “This effort is going to continue and it’s going to take some time until we complete recovery. We’re going to come back better than ever.”

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