March 29, 2006

Contemplating The Costs Of Reassessment

Riverhead Town Board members continued to contemplate a tax reassessment of the town's nearly 16,000 residential and commercial properties last Thursday when they met with Scott DeSimone, an attorney with expertise in the area.

For nearly an hour, DeSimone explained to the town the pros and cons, costs, and other pertinent information related to a town-wide reassessment.

For starters, DeSimone informed the town board that it would cost upwards of $2 million to reassess every property in town.

That amount, said DeSimone, would cover the cost to hire a company that would be required to send out an army of assessors.

"They would have to go inside every single home in town," said DeSimone. "It is a lengthy process."

So lengthy, he said, that if the town were to put out a request for proposal to hire a company to conduct the reassessment tomorrow, the job would not be completed until at least 2010. He pointed out that there would be a cost associated with keeping the tax rolls updated after that.

If the town were to go forward with a reassessment, all involved agree that an assessment must be done every year to ensure accuracy of future tax rolls.

It has been nearly 30 years since Riverhead conducted a reassessment, but the town is not alone, said DeSimone. It has been nearly as long since neighboring Southold and Brookhaven have updated their rolls.

"So, why," questioned Riverhead Supervisor Phil Cardinale, "is it necessary for us to do a reassessment?"

The supervisor and other members of the town board were curious to understand why it would be beneficial for Riverhead to update its rolls while other town's rolls remain just as outdated — and all are considered in compliance by New York State regulations.

Town Assessor Laverne Tennenberg jumped in: "Because we believe there is inequity."

The veteran assessor walked to the front of the room, carrying pages of recent home sales statistics. She passed them out to the town board members and pointed out that the assessments of the homes are off by quite a bit. She said, "And a lot of people don't know they are paying too much because their mortgage company pays their tax bill."

As a rule of thumb with any reassessment, taxes are increased on one third of properties, stay the same for one third, and go down for the remaining one third.

Just whose property will go up in value and whose will go down cannot be known until a full assessment is complete.

That is one reason why reassessments are not favored — in many cases it is political suicide to have a reassessment conducted, explained DeSimone.

As he has in the past, Councilman John Dunleavy expressed concern over senior citizens who are on fixed incomes and whose property taxes will increase as a result of a reassessment.

Councilwoman Barbara Blass voiced a similar concern, but for all residents.

DeSimone said there are ways to mitigate impacts. For example, the town can choose to mirror Nassau County's reassessment. It phased in the tax increase and decrease by capping any potential increase.

He said, "They said they can't raise your taxes in any given year by more than six percent."

Armed with additional information, the town board, said Cardinale, will look to gain more knowledge before making a decision on a reassessment by meeting with the leaders of town that have conducted their own.

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