Taxpayer uproar over increased property values is leading the town of Wright to pull out of a multitown assessment program.
The move leaves two other towns, Schoharie and Esperance, looking for $22,000 or a new partner.
The three towns joined in 2008 to form a Coordinated Assessing Program, which gives municipalities the ability to share the cost of assessing property values. They also shared a professional assessor, doing away with elected or appointed assessors.
The assessor, Steven Rubeor, applied changes to about a third of the town of Wright’s parcels for 2012. Those changes were followed by accusations by residents suggesting their property values were increased to make up for value Schoharie and Esperance lost to Tropical Storm Irene.
“All of a sudden, [Rubeor] comes out with this assessment where 361 people in the town of Wright made up the $12 million loss in assessment,” Wright town Councilman Edward Thornton said.
He said many taxpayers among the 361 who saw a property value increase were incensed at changes they felt were unfair because Esperance and Schoharie weren’t subjected to major changes.
“Some of the assessments were doubled,” Thornton said.
He said the town’s property values should not only reflect market value, but also services and available infrastructure. Unlike the town of Schoharie, Thornton said, Wright doesn’t have a large volume of businesses that pitch in to the property tax collection pot — nor what he called Wright’s poor roads.
Wright’s pullout will mean the other two towns will have to make up Wright’s $22,000 contribution towards administrative costs, much to the dismay of the Schoharie and Esperance town supervisors.
The CAP administration, housed in the Schoharie town offices, costs $55,000 a year, Schoharie town Supervisor Gene Milone said.
Based on population, Wright was paying 25 percent of the bill, Esperance was paying 29.4 percent and Schoharie was paying 45.6 percent.
“We’re left struggling with respect to what’s going to happen with the other two towns in the CAP,” Milone said.
He said he is hoping another town might be willing to join the program.
“It’s quite an expense to have an assessor, to have a secretary and all the components involved, so if you’re sharing the expense, as we have, the three towns to date, there’s less of a financial burden on each town,” Milone said.
He doesn’t think Wright property owners were targeted to make up for disaster-related losses in the other towns.
He said the fact that the Wright Board of Assessment Review upheld the majority of the property value increases suggests those property owners haven’t been paying their fair share.
“We were carrying the load,” Milone said.
Rubeor said Wednesday he didn’t target the 361 properties but went through the entire town before making changes. He said he also reviewed Esperance and Schoharie property values, but major changes weren’t required in those towns.
Rubeor, who has been doing assessment work since 1985, said he became aware of a “significant problem” in the town of Wright’s assessments when he arrived in 2008, and he found resistance from the Board of Assessment Review when he tried to make corrections.
As an example, he said he assessed a custom-built home with 30 acres of land and an oversized garage at $160,000, and the Board of Assessment Review lowered it to $100,000 — Rubeor said there are double-wide mobile homes on one acre of land that are assessed at $100,000.
“This spring, I addressed the issue,” he said.
Rubeor said he believes the outcome of reviews that followed the changes lends support to his work.
“By and large, the BAR validated what I did, as well,” he said.
About 25 percent of the taxpayers with increased assessments grieved them to the Board of Assessment Review, and increased values were lowered by approximately 10 percent overall.
Of the 361 affected properties, two went to court for small claims assessment review, with the assessment of one lowered from $180,000 to $170,000 and the other case dismissed.
“There have been sales since then that validate what I did. I did it correctly, and I was right on the numbers,” Rubeor said.
Esperance town Supervisor Earl Van Wormer III said Wright’s move simply puts more pressure on the other two towns, while adding costs in Wright.
“It’s not a wise business decision to make. Now, the town of Schoharie and the town of Esperance are going to have to figure out what we do at this point,” Van Wormer said.
Wright town Supervisor William Goblet could not be reached Wednesday.