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Update on LED Streetlight Test

LEDStreetLightRon Schulhof, who heads the LED Streetlight Committee for Scarsdale Village sent in the following update on a pilot program to test the use of LED lights on Village streets in Scarsdale. The pilot is now underway, but since one of the manufacturers is planning to release a new and improved version of the fixtures that address some of the concerns residents have raised, the committee has decided to extend the pilot program until these new lights are available to test at the beginning of next year.

Here is the report:

The Committee on LED Streetlights has been piloting LED streetlights at seven locations on high traffic roads and town and country locations since July 12, 2016. The initial timeframe for the pilot was planned at three months, to conclude on October 12, 2016. One of the manufacturers of the pilot LED Streetlights recently informed the Committee that a new version of their fixture will be released in early 2017 with material improvements to the lighting. The new version will also address a potential defect in the housing that could cause damage to the fixture upon installation. These upgrades are expected to address some of the concerns expressed by residents and Committee members in regards to the current Pilot fixtures.

The pilot lights impacted are those on Mamaroneck Road (Garden Road to Sheldrake Road) and White Plains (Post) Road (Crane Road to Wayside Lane). These lights will be removed and replaced with the non-LED streetlights that were previously installed at these locations. The other pilot light (from other manufacturers) will remain installed.

In light of these developments, the Committee recommends the extension of the pilot program to allow for testing of these new fixtures that are expected to be available in early 2017.

New fixture update:

Based on discussions with the manufacturer, we are expecting a number of material improvements to the fixture in the upcoming version:

-Improved optics (the lens that sits over the LEDs and directs the light) that will improve the distribution of the light on the road
-Improved LEDs that will produce the a more uniform light color
-Increased energy efficiency
-Additional color options including a softer color
-Updated installation bracket to address potential damage to the fixture during installation

While the extent of each of the improvements will not be known until the new version is released and the Committee realizes that there will always be technological improvements, the Committee feels these potential improvements are worth extending the pilot period to include this new fixture.

What we'll be doing while we wait:

Over the next few months the Committee will continue working with the industry to find appropriate fixtures for our various types of fixtures and streets. We will also continue our research and discussions of LED Streetlight upgrades with other municipalities (both locally and nationally).

For questions regarding the LED Streetlight Project our Committee email us at LED@Scarsdale.com. We welcome questions and feedback from the community.

Community Weighs Plans for Library Renovation: Scarsdale Forum Invites Residents to Participate in a Survey

libraryentryThe community continues to consider a proposed library renovation that would modernize the aging facility, make the space more flexible, handicapped accessible, and sustainable, bring in more light and accommodate new technology. In response to feedback from the Board of Trustees and the community, the Library Board has revised their plans to cut $3 million from the proposed budget therefore decreasing the funding that would be needed from the Village.

At the September 26 meeting of the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale, Library Board President Terri Simon and Library Director Elizabeth Bermel explained the cost savings which included modifications to the foundation of the building, substitutions for furniture, shelving and lighting, modifications to woodworking, interior materials and reductions in the purchase of AV systems and wiring. The original plan included a wrap around reading deck which has now been shelved – however it could be added on in the future if funds become available.

All the changes were made with the intent of not gutting the original plans, goals or vision for the new library. This new plan is called Option A-1.

The net result is that the total project is expected to cost $17.9 million. Funding sources will include $7.5 million in private donations, of which $2 million has already been raised along with a $500,000 grant from New York State and $1.5 million that will be saved when the library is closed for two years. Simon anticipates that the Village would need to fund $8.4 million with debt financing – which will mean an $8.4 million bond (or $9.9 million if the $1.5 million in savings cannot be included in financing for the project.)

Meanwhile, the Scarsdale Forum is studying the proposal and has issued a survey to the community to gather more information for their report.

According to a press release from the Forum, the committee will be chaired by
Madelaine Eppenstein and Rosanne Underweiser. Eppenstein said, "Now that the Village has received 'Option A-1' we are reviewing the details to understand both the revised costs and the updated project components. Wider community feedback is essential for an informed dialogue about the project."

Lena Crandall, President of Scarsdale Forum added, "The Forum continues to provide valuable analysis and research on important Village issues, as our organization has done for over 100 years. Community surveys are a natural extension of our ongoing member meetings and discussions. We welcome and encourage all residents to voice their opinions on issues of community interest."

All residents are invited to participate in the survey. To do so, either click here or email info@scarsdaleforum.com to receive the survey via email.

Scarsdale Residents Weigh In on Solar Panels

solarpanelIn light of repeated refusals by the Scarsdale Board of Architectural Review to grant permits for street-facing solar panels on Scarsdale homes, the Board of Trustees asked the Village's Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) to research the community's attitude toward such placements. The Trustees further requested that the CAC look into ways that the permitting and approval process could be made more efficient.

In addition to researching best practices, the CAC has been surveying residents to gauge their feelings about this topic. The four-question survey is still open and the CAC continues to invite participation. It can be accessed on the home page of Scarsdale.com or by clicking here: 

With 139 responses received so far, respondents overwhelmingly support an automatic right of residents to install street-facing solar panels:

Interestingly though, respondents believe that not all roof styles should be permitted to accommodate solar panels -- -the number of responses to this question is fewer than the total number of responses.

Numerous comments were also received. Several residents reflected on aesthetic concerns, one writing: "As much as I want to encourage use of alternate sources of energy, solar panels take away from the character of a neighborhood. If people want to add them, that is fine, but they should be obligated to keep them out of sight" while another resident writes: "I am concerned about large ugly construction being permitted in Scarsdale, changing the nature of the neighborhood and adversely affecting neighbors who must view it every day from their windows. To me, solar panels don't look appealing and in general I am opposed to [making] them visible from the street unless I could be assured they would look nice."

All the same, a majority of respondents do favor street-facing installations without review, except perhaps insuring that the panels do not clash with roof materials. Writes one of these respondents: "I think that every homeowner has the right to install panels to reduce energy costs and preserve the environment. Scarsdale Village should not be involved in this decision... it is an overreach. How any municipality can regulate/ban solar panels due to aesthetics is beyond me and I wonder about the legality of such behavior."

Another said, "In the age of global warming it is scandalous that somebody even thinks of opposing solar panels. How can anybody think that the appearance of a house is more important than bequeathing a healthy environment to our children? In fact, the village should do more. It should at a minimum refund all permit application fees for either new construction or renovation projects that turn to geothermal heating and cooling or solar panels."

Another agreed, saying, "I am not sure that the Board should have the right to determine who gets to use the sun and who doesn't. It should expect to pay for the denial of the right. Why should anyone have to pay to subsidize the same rights we are all supposed to have. The village has no right to take from the people without compensation of some sort. Good luck with that. It should take solace in that the technology of solar power and its preservation is not yet at the point of being worth the cost. Leasing the hardware is not worth it."

One resident offered this logic to make the case for street facing panels: "Given that Scarsdale homes tend to be larger than the average home and likely use more electricity and other natural resources, it is important that residents be given the ability to have a less negative impact on the environment. Others may say that installing solar panels will result in lowered home values, but I disagree. Over time, solar panels and other energy efficient measures, will have a positive impact on home values, just as our great schools do."

Other suggested a conciliatory middle road. For example one said, "I've considered it, but the part of my roof that receives the most sun is on the street side. I knew that would be an automatic 'no' from the BAR. If the BAR had some guidelines instead of a blanket ban, I'd be happy to follow them." In fact, the Conservation Advisory Council is currently formulating just such guidelines, so that solar installations in Scarsdale can be more efficiently permitted and with clearer guidance for expediting BAR approval, if and when required. The CAC page also contains a Solar Central section with a growing list of tools and resources to guide residents on installing solar electric panels.

The residential energy landscape continues to rapidly evolve. While solar equipment costs continue their steep decline, subsidies also are being reduced. Meanwhile, there are increasing concerns over the inability of the grid to accomodate varying amounts of power provided by renewable systems that are dependent on the sun and wind. New technologies such as large batteries hold great promise for storing the episodic energy generated by solar panels, or even soaking up energy from the grid when energy is cheaper.

Energy conservation is the most efficient way to green your home. So you know where you stand, Con Ed has recently been publishing comparisons of homeowners' energy use versus their neighbors. Other technologies such as solar water heating, demand response thermostats and more insulation may all be excellent investments for homeowners wishing to save energy and lessen their environmental impact.

As always, the CAC also appeals for volunteers. Its work lies at the heart of maintaining the Village's quality of life through optimal use of open space, greening and other issues of conservation and sustainability. The CAC meets once per month in Scarsdale Village Hall. Apply here to join the CAC.

There's still time to complete the solar survey – respond today.

Mayor Lays Out Revaluation Road Map and Hints at Changes in the Assessor's Office in Scarsdale

scarsdaleaerialviewScarsdale Mayor Jon Mark sought to assure residents that the Board of Trustees and Village Managers were doing everything possible to address the flawed 2016-17 revaluation, ameliorate its effects and ensure better outcomes in the future at the Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday September 13.

In lengthy remarks, Mayor Mark gave updates on a host of issues surrounding the 2016 revaluation, which residents determined was mathematically incorrect and could not be validated.

The Mayor's full comments appear below, but in brief, here is what he shared:

Equalization Rate:

The state has determined an equalization rate of 89.06 for Scarsdale. The equalization rate is used to distribute school district or county taxes among multiple municipalities. Equalization rates of 100 are granted to municipalities whose aggregated assessed values fall between 95 and 100, and since the new valuation was supposed to bring Scarsdale to full market value the Village should have been at 100. However, using their own calculations, the NYS Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) determined that Scarsdale's preliminary aggregate taxable value was $10,159,000,000, while the aggregate of the town's assessment roll as set in the 2016 revaluation only added up to $9,048,000,000. Dividing the town's assessed value by the value determined by ORPTS yields a 89.06 equalization rate.

The impact of this equalization on Scarsdale residents' Westchester County taxes cannot yet be determined, though Mark believes it will be "relatively small."

J.F. Ryan:

The Village has withheld $43,000 from J.F. Ryan's original contract as well as a $6,000 bill from Ryan's appearance at an August 17th meeting. They are considering filing a claim against Ryan.

Grievances:

The Board of Assessment Review considered 1,103 grievances during the summer and granted reductions to 373 applicants or to 34% of applicants. These reductions will result in a decrease of approximately $72.4 million from the 2016 assessment roll.

Future Revaluations:

To plan for future revaluations, the Board is looking for input from the community and will await the results of a study to be done by a committee of the Scarsdale Forum.

Phased-in Increases:

The Board will also consider asking State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin to propose legislation in the state legislature to allow residents who meet certain requirements – including the STAR exemption- to phase in their property tax increases over three years. Though this would help those that were hardest hit, it would also cause a slight increase in the taxes of other residents who would need to make up the shortfall.

Village Assessor:

Last – it appears that the Board of Trustees is seeking a legal ways to dismiss Village Assessor Nanette Albanese and/or members of her staff. In the Mayor's remarks about the Assessor and Assessor's office he says, "At this point, all that we are prepared to say is that the Board is studying what should be done within applicable legal parameters about the staffing and functioning of that office."

Subsequent to the meeting, on September 15, the final 2016 tax assessments were posted on the Village website. Take a look at your taxes here.

See the Mayor's full remarks below:

Comments by Jon Mark
Meeting of Board of Trustees
September 13, 2016

Revaluation 2016: Topics to be discussed:

1. 2016 State equalization rate
2. Seeking redress from J.F. Ryan
3. Summary results of the Assessment Board of Review
4. Process for considering a future revaluation
5. Phase-in legislation
6. Will the Village take steps to void the 2016 revaluation
7. The Assessor and Assessor's Office

2016 State equalization rate: As has been mentioned at prior meetings, we have been waiting for ORPTS to issue its state equalization rate. ORPTS issues equalization rates each year regardless of whether or not a municipality does a revaluation. We have been informally advised by ORPTS that its preliminary calculations have resulted in an equalization rate of 89.06. This number is a weighted aggregation of a residential rate calculated by ORPTS at 88.48 and rates of 100 for each of commercial, vacant and public utility service properties in the Village. The equalization rate for the Town last year was 100. We have asked the Village staff to estimate what the 2016 equalization rate might mean to residents, but first some context. What is the equalization rate and why is it utilized?

In New York State, each municipality determines its own level of assessment (this is in contrast to most states that require one level of assessment statewide). Hundreds of taxing jurisdictions including most school districts and counties do not share the same taxing boundaries as the cities and towns that are responsible for assessing properties. The equalization rate is a mechanism intended to distribute school district or county taxes among multiple municipalities. To accomplish that objective, the level of assessment, or LOA, of each municipality is equalized to full market value. The agency that makes the calculation used for this purpose is the NYS Office of Real Property Tax Services, a division of the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance.

It is important to note that the ORPTS analysis is of the aggregate assessed value of the municipality. It does not engage in a property-by-property assessment. The equalization rate is not intended to correct unfair individual assessments in a city or town. That function is, by statute and regulation, left to the local assessor and to individual residents through the grievance process.

In determining the equalization rate, ORPTS analyzes the municipal LOA, basically the aggregate value of real property in the municipality as reported by the municipality. Based on national standards, ORPTS reviews the LOA to determine if it is within adequate tolerances to be used as the equalization rate. Those tolerances, if a municipality wishes to achieve an equalization rate of 100, are an LOA in the range of 95 to 105. In municipalities where ORPTS cannot confirm the LOA as being within their range, ORPTS uses its own independent estimate of total market value to determine the equalization rate. Since the LOA as reported by Ryan resulting from the 2016 revaluation was 94, it was not surprising that ORPTS concluded that an equalization rate of 100 would not be appropriate for the Town.

So how did ORPTS come up with the preliminary equalization rate and what does it mean to residents in terms of dollars and cents? The first part of this question requires an understanding of the statistical analysis ORPTS performed. ORPTS has provided the Village with the results of their modeling and their sales ratio study. The Village intends to make that information, as well as the underlying source data that ORPTS provided, available to residents by putting it on line. The technical analysis used by ORPTS will be parsed by the Village staff and interested residents can do so as well. The bottom line is that the preliminary aggregate taxable value calculated by ORPTS is approximately $10,159,000,000. The aggregate value of real property used by ORPTS taken from information on the Town's tentative assessment roll is approximately $9,048,000,000 (without giving effect to the results of grievances). Dividing that figure by the ORPTS calculated number produces the 89.06 equalization rate.

In terms of dollars and cents, assuming the ORPTS preliminary calculation becomes final, the school tax levy may go up slightly, an estimated one-third of one percent. The boundaries of the school district and the Town of Scarsdale are largely co-terminus with approximately 96% of the total value of Town properties located in Scarsdale. The relevant exception being the approximately 200 homes within the Mamaroneck strip. Thus, all that is being reallocated across the Village by virtue of the equalization rate is the impact of the rate on the approximately 200 homes in the Mamaroneck strip.

The impact on County taxes cannot be calculated since it is derived by comparing the aggregate taxable value of Town property to the aggregate taxable value of all real property in the County. This latter figure is not presently known although in 2015 the aggregate full value of County real property was approximately $163.8 billion. What can be said about the County tax component is that should the County aggregate value be approximately the same as in 2015, the Village's share will be larger using the $10 billion figure than it would be using the $9 billion figure. However, the expected dollar increase in the Village's share should be relatively small.

The Village/Town tax is not affected by the equalization rate. In this regard it is critical to keep in mind that none of what has just been described affects the 2016-2017 budget. The budget of approximately $55.5 million was adopted last spring. Of that budgeted amount, approximately $38.5 million is expected to be raised from real property taxes. None of what has just been summarized concerning the equalization rate changes either of those budgeted numbers.

One further contextual note: What would have happened with respect to the equalization rate if the Village had not undertaken a revaluation for the 2016 roll? It is likely that the result might have been approximately the same in terms of the equalization rate. Why? If there were no 2016 revaluation, ORPTS would have conducted its 2016 review using the 2015 final Town assessment roll. The 2015 final roll included an LOA of approximately $9,033,000,000 – an amount lower than the LOA resulting from the 2016 revaluation and thus presumably also below the low end of the ORPTS acceptable range of 95 to 105 needed to achieve an equalization rate of 100. If that were the case, ORPTS would have done its own LOA calculation that produced the $10.2 billion figure. At our request, ORPTS calculated a pro forma equalization rate assuming there had not been a 2016 revaluation and came up with a pro forma rate of 89.87. Of course, in preparing the 2016 assessment roll, that $9 billion figure would have been adjusted for new construction and additions. Even so, those sorts of adjustments would not likely have increased the value more than approximately $650 million to get within the lower end of the ORPTS 95 to 105 range that would permit a 100 equalization rate. So it is reasonable to note that even without the 2016 revaluation, the ORPTS equalization rate would have been close to the rate ORPTS has calculated.

However, the Village did do the 2016 revaluation and as part of that exercise had hoped to meet the criteria for ORPTS to issue an equalization rate of 100. In light of that, the Village staff has started assembling the information that might support an appeal of the ORPTS preliminary calculation. That administrative appeal process is outlined in a NYS publication available on the ORPTS web site. It requires submission of a complaint to ORPTS backed up with data as to why the ORPTS calculation is in error and that the Town LOA should be given full value. Based on what can be pulled together by the staff, the administrative process may or may not be pursued. In terms of a time frame, once ORPTS formally issues the tentative equalization rate, a hearing date is set for 25 days thereafter. A complaint must be filed within five days prior to the hearing date. Overall, ORPTS advised that this process, if pursued, would likely be completed on or prior to December 1st since that is the date the County sets its tax roll and would want to know the final equalization rate before that date.

Seeking redress from J.F. Ryan: This brings us to the next point. The Village staff is organizing the information that might support a claim against J.F. Ryan Associates. The ability of the Village, or the inability, to assemble information to support the ORPTS administrative complaint process will be factored into that analysis. In the meantime, the Village continues to hold onto the approximate $43,000 unpaid balance of J.F. Ryan's 2016 revaluation contract and has not paid Mr. Ryan the $6,000 he billed the Village for his August 17th appearance in Village Hall.

Summary results of the Assessment Board of Review: The Assessment Board of Review finished its process of reviewing 1103 grievance filings on September 1, 2016. We thank that Board for their extraordinary effort in completing their work in a timely fashion. As an overview, we are advised that 373, or 34 %, of the petitions were granted some reduction in their assessment; 720, or 65 %, of the petitions were denied; 7, or 0.7% were dismissed; and 3, or 0.3% were withdrawn. The relief granted so far will have the effect of reducing the aggregate taxable valuation of Village real property by an aggregate of approximately $72.4 million for the 2016 tentative assessment roll – a decrease of approximately 0.8%. Giving effect to these results, the 2016 aggregate assessed valuation would be approximately $21.9 million less than the 2015 final assessment roll total.

We assume that many of those who grieved will continue their grievance process by filing either a SCAR petition or an Article 7 petition to seek further relief in court. The deadline for filing is 30 days after the final assessment roll is filed. The final assessment roll is expected to be filed on September 15, 2016 as required by applicable law. As previously noted, relief granted in SCAR filings is limited to reductions of not more than 25%. Article 7 proceedings are not so limited. Residents who wish to pursue their matters further should consult with their advisors as to what sort of filing might be appropriate for them. The 2016 aggregate valuation will be reduced further by some amount depending on the results of SCAR or Article 7 petitions filed.

Process for considering future revaluation: At prior Board meetings we have commented that the process for considering a future revaluation should be a thoughtful one that included, among other things, resident input. In that regard, we had spoken generally about forming an ad hoc advisory committee of residents for that purpose and the Board might still do so. However, for the moment I was encouraged by the article in last Friday's Inquirer about the steps taken by the Scarsdale Forum to activate its committee to study the issue. If the Forum committee can produce a reasonable road map of next steps, that would be valuable input for this Board. Of course, the Board would welcome and consider input on this subject (or any subject) from other sources including neighborhood associations, the League of Women Voters and individual residents. Stepping up to provide this sort of feedback to the Village Board is a large part of what volunteerism in the Village is about.

Phase-in legislation. Some of you may be aware of the three year phase-in legislation passed in Albany that permits eligible residents of the Town of Greenburgh and Town of Ossining to phase in the results of their recent revaluations over three years. Only residents who meet the conditions of the laws as adopted, with further refinements by Greenburgh and Ossining, respectively, are entitled to the phase-in. Among those requirements are that a resident be eligible for the STAR exemption, be current on all property tax payments and have a full value increase in assessment due to the recent reassessment not related to increases due to physical improvements or a removal or reduction of property tax exemption, exceeding 25%. In addition, the property must be owned by the owner of record who appeared on the assessment roll at the time of the reassessment, and remain in the same ownership throughout the exemption period. If ownership changes, the exemption will be discontinued. In the case of Greenburgh, there are other eligibility requirements that are specified in the Greenburgh Local Law Section 440.67.1 which was adopted by the Town of Greenburgh on July 19, 2016 and can be found on its web site. Ossining Local Law No. 8 of 2016 can be found on the Town of Ossining web site.

The phase-in eases, to some degree, the immediate cash flow impact of the revaluation on eligible residents whose assessment increases exceed the threshold amount. It does not decrease their assessment. It also has the effect of causing the other residents to pay more tax—in decreasing percentages over the three-year phase-in period -- than they otherwise would have if the new reassessments had been given full effect in year one. Greenburgh and Ossining apparently felt this result was a fair trade-off in light of the economic burden to be borne by residents who experienced assessment increases above the threshold percentage.

The staff has been asked to do a preliminary analysis of the potential impact of such a phase-in assuming the more than 25% eligibility threshold used in the Greenburgh and Ossining precedents. At the more than 25% level, there would be approximately 130 properties potentially eligible for phase-in if the other criteria for eligibility were met. These are not all of the properties that experienced increases in excess of 25%, but only those that would meet the STAR exemption eligibility requirement. The underlying rationale for this requirement in the legislation that was adopted was to provide this form of relief to those most in need of it from a financial point of view using eligibility for the STAR exemption as a metric for making that cut. We understand from speaking with Assemblywoman Paulin's office that this was an important consideration in drafting the Greenburgh and Ossining state legislation since it focused the phase-in relief on residents who might be forced to move as a result of the additional tax burden. Making phase-in available to residents who meet the eligibility requirements outlined might make a considerable difference to those hardest hit by the 2016 revaluation on the one hand and on the other hand when spread over all Village properties the incremental increase attributable to a phase-in (which would decline over a three year period) might be bearable. The presently estimated financial impact of such a phase-in plan would be an increase in the Village levy of about 1.2 cents per thousand in the first year, declining to approximately a half a cent per thousand in year two and zero in year three. Assuming a house valued at $1.5 million, it is estimated that the dollar impact would be approximately $95.06 in year one and $47.47 in year two. Of course, the final figures will not be calculable until the final 2016 assessment roll is known and the tax levy for 2016-2017 is set.

Pursuing a phase-in would require the adoption of authorizing legislation in Albany and the adoption of an enabling Village code provision once State legislation was enacted. Neither of those things have happened yet and so phase-in is not presently authorized. We have spoken with Assemblywoman Paulin, her staff and personnel at the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance about the possibility of having authorizing legislation adopted and her office is willing to pursue that possibility if the Village Board decides that should be done. Any Village Board action on the possibility of a phase-in would be considered pursuant to a public hearing on the matter before this Board, and residents would have an opportunity to comment on any such proposal, if made.

Will the Village take steps to void the 2016 revaluation: As has been stated at past meetings, this Board does not have statutory authority to take such an action on its own. During the conversation we had with Assemblywoman Paulin's office and the Tax Department about phase-in legislation, we spoke about the possibility of voiding the 2016 revaluation and reinstating the 2015 final assessment roll. We were advised that may be theoretically possible but were not cited to any precedents of that having been done. The comment was made that such an action would require special legislation to be passed by both houses of the legislature and then be signed by the Governor. The lone example of such a legislative process we were cited to was not an analogous case – and in any event proved ineffective. In 2011, the Town of Hamilton sought legislation that would have extended the date for filing a tentative assessment roll. As reported, the effort was prompted by resident unhappiness with increases in their assessments due to a reassessment. Madison County (in which Hamilton is located) officials opposed the legislation on the ground that the delay would upset the budget process county-wide and would postpone finalization of equalization rates. The legislation was passed by the New York State legislature, but was vetoed by the Governor and so did not become effective.

We were told that should the Village wish to pursue this route, the earliest draft legislation could be submitted for consideration would be January 2017. Based on that timing, it is not likely we would learn whether or not the legislation passed for several months thereafter, close to the time the spring tax bills had to go out. Further, based on the report of the Hamilton experience, it is possible that Westchester County might oppose any such legislative proposal for the same reasons Madison County did – and such opposition proved to be persuasive in that case. The Board will continue to consider whether to go down this path weighing its pros and cons. We recognize residents' issues with the 2016 revaluation and the strong desire of some to reinstate the 2015 final assessment roll. However, it is less than clear that reinstating the 2015 final assessment roll, and it is not clear that that could be done, would be a prudent course to take since that roll too had its critics. One procedural issue that re-instatement might trigger is that those who may be grieved by the reinstatement of the 2015 roll would not have an opportunity file grievances. That inability would be among the factors to be seriously considered in pursuing this course. It may be that rather than reinstating a prior roll that also had its flaws, the Village as a whole might be better served by looking ahead and planning in a thoughtful way for the next Village-wide revaluation. Some consideration of this topic will continue.

The Assessor and the Assessor's Office: At this point, all that we are prepared to say is that the Board is studying what should be done within applicable legal parameters about the staffing and functioning of that office.

Concluding Observation: There is an overriding community interest in moving forward. It is hoped that we share the goal of coming together as a Village, working through the various organizations mentioned, as well as with individual residents, to come up with the next steps on the subject of a possible future revaluation. If we can work together on that task, perhaps we can then get back to focusing on other projects and activities that are part of enjoying our Village.

Revaluation Forges Unlikely Alliances

bedfellowsI must confess that I missed the last 15 minutes of the long evening meeting with J.F. Ryan at Village Hall on August 17th. By 11:40 pm I thought I had heard about all I needed to know. But I was wrong. I later found out that as the meeting drew to a close, one speaker called for Village Assessor Nanette Albanese to be replaced. In a rambling speech that I watched on my computer Albanese was charged with having "a Machiavellian approach to taxes," losing "her objectivity," and destroying "$1 billion in wealth in this community over the next three years." The speaker claimed that "The revals have destroyed the market" and "fractionalized the community," and called for Albanese's resignation and the immediate search for a new assessor.

Those comments brought a loud round of applause from the audience.

But I wondered if the people in the audience knew the full backstory of the accelerated timing of the second revaluation and the role of the group they were cheering in having it done?

At the time of the first revaluation in 2014, several members of the Heathcote Association raised serious concerns about Tyler's methodology and argued that the revaluation had shifted too much of the tax burden onto owners of large homes. Before the 2014 revaluation, many of these homes had not been reassessed for decades and there were residents with expansive homes on more than two acres paying lower taxes than owners of homes on half-acre plots. Some enjoyed advantageous tax rates for years at the expense of newer families moving into Scarsdale. Tyler Technologies was retained to conduct the first revaluation and to inspect each home in the Village. They used a comparable sales approach to identify similar homes that were sold and reassess each existing parcel.

At a meeting in May 2014, after Tyler had released the new assessments, members of the Heathcote Association were angry. Here are excerpts from comments in 2014 that sound very similar to complaints about the 2016 revaluation.

David Bunzel said that the 40 homes in the association have been "hardest hit" by the revaluation and that the revaluation was "promised to be fair and transparent" but "it has been just the opposite." He inferred that these homes had been singled out and wanted to know "what instructions were given by the assessor's office to Tyler in terms of targeting and valuing older homes or homes on larger acreage," stating that "homes on larger lots appear to have been targeted for assessment increases well above village-wide averages." He also said that "outliers" were used as comparables ...mostly teardowns."

Ron Parlato said there was "confusion and misinformation" and that the revaluation was done without "transparency and accountability." He proposed a one-year delay.

"What were the checks and balances?" Steve Rakoff asked? He claimed that overstatements on the data cards were made to coerce inspections from residents who had not permitted the inspectors inside. He said "24 valuations went up and 3 went down." He said, "On Morris Lane there were 30-50% increases. There may have been a mistake and land may have been overvalued. These are irregularities from a model that is not carefully thought out." He then questioned the assessor's role and said, "Was there over-involvement?"

At a subsequent meeting on November 19, 2015, this same group brought large spreadsheets to demonstrate how homeowners on smaller parcels were receiving "discounts", while those on lots over an acre were subsidizing them.

They questioned Tyler's process and said they were "Concerned about how the math model was derived. They claimed, "There was an imbalance in their model." Turning to J.F. Ryan who Rakoff supported to do the second revaluation, he said, "The hope of everyone here is to get a fair shake and get it rebalanced so there is equitable assessment throughout the town."

They presented data of recent sales by lot size, and attempted to show that small lots were severely under assessed. About Edgewood they said, "If you have 3 kids in school you are costing the district $70,000 a year and we're collecting $20,000 in taxes so it's a bargain to live here." They argued that Greenacres was discounted 19%, Fox Meadow 21% and small homes in Heathcote homes were selling at 36% more than their assessed values.

About Tyler Technologies they said, "The model was flawed. There are tremendous inconsistencies with the first reval." They hoped Ryan would "get this straight now.," saying, "Real estate needs to be assessed in an equitable manner."

Rakoff objected to the Village's plan to follow NYS recommendations to do frequent revaluation to keep the tax roll at market value. He asked for a "static" assessor's office and said he objected to periodic revaluations as they upset the market.

These complaints, along with shifts in the real estate market, caused the trustees to consider doing a second revaluation in two years rather than four. Market forces had caused a regional slowdown in the sale of high-end homes, while buyers competed to get lower priced homes in the $1 million range. At the time, realtors and some homeowners argued that the reval was the cause of the slowdown, but sales data later showed that this was a regional phenomenon with luxury homes sitting on the market in Westchester and Connecticut. As the Village had received so much criticism about Tyler, they selected J.F. Ryan to do the job. He had overseen the first revaluation and said he would use a direct market model to derive valuations.

So, two years later, at the meeting on August 17, 2016, I found it ironic that many of the applauding homeowners were those that the Heathcote Association claimed were previously getting "a discount."

To me it looks like many of the high-end homeowners got the reductions they wanted, causing hundreds of others to foot the bill. So why was Rakoff now posing as the leader of the aggrieved small homeowners and asking for the assessor's head? And why were the folks who were now footing his tax bill giving him a hand?

Frequent revaluations appear to be on the horizon for Scarsdale. And no doubt, each time one occurs, some will be pleased and others upset at the results. I guess we're just going to have to get used to it.

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