Schenectady County

Schenectady Grievance Day quiet, but many file papers

When the Board of Assessment Review began hearing cases Tuesday on Grievance Day, only a few residen

City Hall was eerily quiet Tuesday morning.

It was Grievance Day so workers hung signs, unlocked doors and turned on the lights at 7 a.m., expecting a flood of people.

But by 8 a.m., not a single person had showed up to challenge their tax assessment.

When the Board of Assessment Review began hearing cases, only a few residents were waiting. By the end of the day, the board had heard just 77 cases. In recent years, they heard anywhere from 200 to 500 cases.

It’s not that people didn’t grieve their assessments. This year, 673 tax challenges were filed. But few of the owners bothered to personally present their case to the board.

In recent years, 30 percent to 45 percent of the grievers wanted a face-to-face meeting. This time, just 12 percent talked to the board, although the board will hear more cases today from 1 to 6 p.m. if the owners filed their grievance by Tuesday’s deadline.

Some residents who filed their paperwork Tuesday told The Gazette they simply didn’t need to make a speech to enhance their case.

Unlike past years, only a few asked for a reduction simply because they felt their taxes were too high. Many grievers came with solid data.

Assessment board members have encouraged that, saying repeatedly that they generally base their decision on the owner’s paperwork, not an oral presentation.

Grievers who spoke to The Gazette were also more confident that the facts are in their favor this year. Property values have fallen, and every property was reduced by 4 percent this year in the assessment roll that was being challenged Tuesday. But some owners said their property values had fallen by at least 25 percent.

Landlord Robert Sponable brought in sales data showing that the house next door to his on Carrie Street sold for $30,000 last year. It was assessed at $47,800.

That’s a 37 percent difference from the assessment, which is supposed to be the market value of the property.

Likewise, Sponable says his house is assessed about 30 percent too high. He wants his house assessed at $55,000 instead of $79,000. He bought it for $32,000 so that his children could live there while they attended Ellis School of Nursing.

“I think that’s fair. I’m not asking for the world,” he said.

Others also said their property value has fallen by far more than 4 percent.

Jeanne Ertel bought her Lexington Avenue house in 2005, when the prices were peaking. When her house was reassessed, it wound up about $50,000 higher than her neighbors’ houses.

“I know the real estate bubble hit me at the wrong time,” she said.

Getting a 4 percent reduction lowers her assessment from $181,000 to $173,760. But she hired an appraiser who said her house should be reduced about 25 percent, to $135,000.

“Four percent is something,” she said. “But it’s still too high. I hope they are sensible and come down.”

In the city’s most deteriorated neighborhoods, owners asked for large reductions.

A long-time resident of the Vale neighborhood asked for a 31 percent reduction in his assessment, arguing that sales data show he’d never be able to sell his house for its $87,000 assessed value.

Before the recent reassessment, it was assessed at $55,000, which owner James Ballard said was fair. But now it’s $87,000, while his neighbors are selling for $30,000 to $40,000.

“It just got out of hand. The assessment before this was pretty fair, but then they shot it way up,” he said. “And then property values took a fall.”

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