A trip several officials made to Albany last week will save hundreds of dollars for taxpayers in the towns of Esperance and Schoharie.
The state Department of Taxation and Finance ran assessment data through established formulas and decided the towns were undervaluing properties, despite the loss of more than 100 homes and other impacts from tropical storms Irene and Lee two years ago.
But Assessor Steven Rubeor, Schoharie town Supervisor Eugene Milone and Schoharie County Real Property Tax Director Marjorie Troidl saw the situation differently.
They went to last week’s meeting of the state Board of Real Property Tax Services to argue for more realistic numbers, and their arguments prevailed.
The equalization rate will now be 78 percent rather than 70 percent.
To make sure people pay their fair share of property taxes in cases where the tax district goes beyond the borders of their town — school and county taxes, specifically — the state compares the property values a town has set for itself with the real estate market and decides whether the values established locally meet with values in the market, or how far out of sync they are.
For example, some towns that haven’t completely re-evaluated their properties in recent years may value a house at $80,000, when the real estate market suggests it’s worth $100,000. So the state in that case applies an equalization rate of 80 percent, suggesting the values the town uses are 80 percent of market value.
This figure is then factored into tax rates to prevent unfairness to taxpayers in towns with more accurate valuation.
In the case of the hypothetical $100,000 house valued at $80,000, the owners might have a much lower county tax bill than the owner of $100,000 house valued at $100,000 in the next town over without that equalization rate.
The towns of Esperance and Schoharie, which coordinate their assessment programs under one program, were looking at an equalization rate of just over 70 percent — a figure Rubeor said suggests the market is robust in Schoharie County and assessed values are considered lower than real value.
But in reality, he said, the county’s property values are struggling — due both to destroyed neighborhoods and proximity to a creek that upended hundreds of lives two years ago.
“When the market is going up, the equalization rate is going down. Every year the state would give us a number and every year that number was going up,” Rubeor said.
But in his eyes — and especially after Irene — that picture was false.
“The market has been going down since ’08,” he said.
Geoffrey Gloak, a spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, said the three-member State Board of Real Property Tax Services agreed to reconsider the data and ultimately changed the equalization rate for both towns.
Rubeor said that win can be described in dollars for taxpayers.
In the towns of Esperance and Schoharie, situated within the Cobleskill-Richmondville Central School District, the change reflects on average a $290 reduction in taxes, and an average change of $300 for a Schoharie resident in the Middleburgh Central School District, he said.