Residents Continue to Press Trustees To Void the 2016 Revaluation
- Category: On Our Minds
- Published on 11 August 2016
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Though the Mayor and Trustees sought to assure angry residents that they were doing all they could to ameliorate the effects of the 2016 revaluation, attendants at the 8-9 meeting of the Board of Trustees continued to grill the Board about the details of the revaluation and press for it to be voided or invalidated.
The Mayor opened the meeting by citing the reaction to the 2014 revaluation, and echoed comments that were similar to those received after the 2016 reval, including "The substance of the model formula is goofy!." He also said that the Town of Greenburgh is receiving lots of criticism about a reval recently completed there by Tyler Technologies. He said that residents can seek redress through the grievance process and suggested that the board could appoint a committee of knowledgeable residents to offer input on a future revaluation.
The Mayor also noted that if this revaluation was voided and assessments were rolled back to the 2015 valuations, any new construction and renovations since that time would not be included in the new valuation.
He said that J.F. Ryan will be at Village Hall on Wednesday August 17 and that questions have already been submitted to him. Any further questions will need to be submitted on notecards to prevent repeating the same questions. Attendees will not have the opportunity to question Ryan or Albanese at the microphone. The meeting will be recorded and streamed online.
Turning to the recusal of Dorothy Finger from the Board of Assessment Review, he thanked her for "years of dedicated service to the Village." He explained that as a result of Bob Berg's call for Finger's son Carl to recuse himself from the vote on the Homestead Act, the Board of Trustees saw a potential for a conflict of interest in having Dorothy Finger rule on grievance applications. Though they did not believe there was a conflict of interest, the Board of Trustees believed that her recusal "would be consistent with the Village's code of ethics." He said, "It was solely an appearance issue."
Trustee Jane Veron read a prepared statement about the revaluation, saying, "I strongly believe you have the right to seek answers to your questions....we value your collective wisdom....we are listening attentively....We have been working diligently throughout the summer."
She reminded the group, that the "...decision to do the second revaluation was in response to vehement complaints from a different group of residents who felt they had been unfairly assessed." She said they also had many questions for Ryan about why sales were eliminated, on how he came up with the neighborhood coefficients and questions about his contract, however they had to address the grievance process first. She said, "Our board does not have the authority to discard an assessment role....We all desire a fair outcome and a stable assessment roll."
Trustee Matt Callaghan spoke in defense of Dorothy Finger, saying, "I have known Dorothy Finger for most of her adult life in Scarsdale. It makes me mad when I see a person of estimable character having to step aside." She got "all in. ... Due to the shenanigans surrounding the revaluation she chose to step aside – that took a lot of courage."
Bill Stern concurred: "Dorothy Finger is an unusual woman who gave selflessly. There is dedication to public service in the whole family. It is very unfortunate – we lost a dedicated public servant. We should honor her for her service. We shouldn't rush to judgment. We shouldn't make assumptions. It's a tragedy."
Turning to the reval, Stern said, "I addressed the angst of this board and I was attacked for that. No one has the right to tell you how you feel. This board feels the anger and frustration – and we ourselves are residents. And we have the same issues. We have been working hard to try to get some answers. We are investigating this thing to the ends of the earth and hope to come to some conclusions about it. We welcome criticisms, constructive contributions. We know where we stand, what we can do legally and what we can do and cannot do. I encourage you all to come when Ryan addresses the Board."
Trustee Deb Pekarek assured the audience that "We listen to all of our citizens. But just because you have said something does not mean we decide in your suggested way... We thought the Ryan reval would tweak the Tyler reval which was good but not perfect....There were no nefarious thoughts or actions....Your comments and concerns weigh heavily on us....When we do this again we will do it differently....We appreciate your time, energy and knowledge.. We have also invested time and energy and we all have had sleepless nights...Contrary to many of the comments, this is not political...There was no hidden agenda nor bias toward anyone in this exercise."
Pekarek continued, "Based on several comments and the attitude of some, I am personally appalled. We love Scarsdale, this is our home. None of us are happy about the current undertones. But to make derogatory innuendos and a negative comments should be beneath us as individuals.. If character is destiny shouldn't we be more civil to each other? There is so much to learn from this."
Trustee Marc Samwick agreed with the Mayor, and said, "After the 2014 revaluation, we were in a very similar position. We attempted to remedy it. What seemed like the natural approach to fixing it, turned out not to be. I think a committee of residents is critical to the next one."
The public comments section of the meeting lasted more than two hours, and you can watch it in its entirety here. However here are excerpts from some of the statements:
Robert Berg reported that the Board of Assessment Review (BAR) has already reviewed 650 of the 1050 grievances submitted. He chided Mayor Mark for "interfering with the BAR's process," criticizing him for asking Dorothy Finger to recuse herself and ultimately resign and for stating that the deadline for the submission of grievance materials was September 1." The Mayor defended himself, saying he was "not meddling," and Trustee Stern said he "found it curious" that Berg invited the Mayor and Trustee Veron to attend a grievance hearing.
Phillip Mailer, a 45 year resident of Scarsdale was highly critical of the revaluation and Village management. He claimed that "the market is destroyed, homes are not moving and his taxes have gone up 30%." He asked the Village to use reserve funds, questioned the need for a triple bond AAA rating and said Scarsdale has "the worst roads in Westchester," citing the condition of Weaver Street which Mayor Mark pointed out is a state road. He believes there are too many people on the payroll at Village Hall, questioned the need for a staff of four in the assessor's office and said "The assessor has caused so many problems." Village Manager Pappalardo invited Mailer to sit down him for a review of the Village budget at a later time.
Josh Frankel called the assessment "sloppy work" and pointed to the fact that there is a dramatic assessment increase for homes that are on over 1 acre. He questioned the invalidated sales and the lack of documentation to support it. He said, "It is no longer possible to accept this revaluation as tenable. The board should rescind this immediately."
Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez provided a lengthy account of what she learned when she reviewed Ryan's contract and FOILED emails between Ryan and Albanese dating back to 2012. She argued that Ryan had failed to live up to his contract and that Albanese had failed to provide oversight of his work. She also brought to light conversations with John Wolham of the NYS Real Property Office where Ryan and Albanese argued for use of the direct market model that was not used in New York State, and advocated for this second reval in just two years, when the office recommends a wait of four years.
Saying that "Nanette has been allowed to run her office as if she were an omnipotent khan in some far flung corner of the Mongol empire," she criticized Village managers for failing to supervise her, and also believed that Ryan and his workers had been permitted access to Village systems and posed a security risk. She ended by saying, "You are going to need a lot of detergent to clean up the mess in the assessor's office." You can read her comments in their entirety here.
Michael Kerr of 15 Fox Meadow Road took on the Trustees, saying, "I have heard a lot about the tone. I wish you could see all of your faces and understand the tone that you are projecting..... Mr. Callaghan is upset that people stamp their feet – that's gall .. I have the right to stamp my feet!...I wonder if you will write a check for the money I now owe the assessor. ...The appearance of impropriety is important.
I think the tone would be different if you had not circled your wagons....This is a tweak like an iceberg tweaked the Titanic....These emails make me sick....From where I stand, none of you have done anything. Honestly you got spanked. You should be proud of the people who did the work. The results you got were so off – why do we have the assessor's department?"
Barbara Wabback of 11 Windmill Lane said,, "I came here to bring up old business.
I bought house in 1972 and it was valued at $15,000...we discovered we were in a flood zone. Thereafter we had floods coming up from the toilet" She explained that she had hired a lawyer to grieve her assessment after the first revaluation and it was revised to $925,000, but under the 2016 revaluation it was raised to $1,125,000. She explained that due to the illness and death of her husband she missed the deadline to grieve her new assessment.
High School student Alex Mazer from Church Lane said "I am unnerved by the way the reval was handled from the start..... At this point, the board is a puppet to the wealthy elite and developers.... The Tyler reval was not perfect – but no model is perfect for everyone. There will always be people who are upset. This reval does not include many sales and there is a huge void in the information. This model needs to be proven and tested before it wreaks havoc.. We cannot wait for this to get worse and we cannot let this become the status quo."
Howard Weitz of Lawrence Road called for the trustees to void Ryan's contract and throw out the 2016 revaluation. He criticized the Board for not acting because they feared potential lawsuits.
Bob Harrison said, "Mr. Ryan has put us through hell. I think you should tell him to come here in early September when we're all back. Mayor Mark replied, "It's the summer for us too – we live in the same hemisphere as you do. We will record it and play it – we need to seize the opportunity to get him here at all." Harrsion then reviewed numbers for the sales that were invalidated and said, "Based on the facts and the emails you should be suing JF Ryan for the $245,000 contract – for breach of contract and malfeasance."
Michael Levine sought to explain the missing sales, saying that about 68 of these were homes where the sale was made but the building character subsequently changed due to construction. He criticized Ryan for failing to use the data on these 68 homes in their condition at the time of sale, rather than discarding them from the model.
Ned Baturin of 23 Fox Meadow Road said he did his own analysis of the 220 homes in the model and found that there was "fundamental unfairness in the model" as small homes are overvalued and larger homes were undervalued. He called this "vertical inequity" that could have been caught and removed.
Ron Parlato, who called for this second revaluation, believing that the larger homes had been unfairly assessed in the 2014 revaluation, called on the trustees to hire an outside attorney to evaluate this revaluation as well as the 2014 valuation. Steve Rakoff, who was also a proponent for the second revaluation said, "We are losing our value as a premiere community in Westchester," and called for new leadership in the assessor's office.
At the conclusion of the public comments section, both Brice and Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez complained that the format of next week's meeting with J.F. Ryan was "restrictive" and said the trustees were treating them like children. They asked to be able to question Ryan and Albanese directly.
The meeting with J.F. .Ryan and Village Assessor Nanette Albanese will be held at 6:55 pm on Wednesday August 17th at Scarsdale Village Hall.
The 2016 Reval: The Problem is not Misdirected Anger
- Category: On Our Minds
- Published on 25 July 2016
- Written by Robert Berg
This letter to the editor was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Robert Berg:
Joanne, your editorial "We're all in this Together" misses the "Mark" both literally and figuratively. The problem here is not misdirected anger by those who are unhappy with their 2016 assessments. A number of the "leaders" of the movement calling for the nullification of the 2016 revaluation actually saw their assessments go DOWN in the Ryan revaluation. That includes me --our property assessment is $58,000 lower in the 2016 reval. What we and many other property owners beyond the 19% who have actually filed grievances are upset about is the failure of our elected officials to safeguard the interests of all residents, to spend our tax dollars wisely, to accept responsibility for their bad decisions (having been publicly forewarned not to do the second revaluation in the first place and to pull the plug when it was obvious that the Ryan revaluation would be the unmitigated disaster that it is), and to take any sort of remedial action.
We are angry that our fact-specific protestations fall on deaf ears.
Moreover, It is not correct to say that "nothing can be done" at this stage except allow the grievance proceedings to run their course. We have asked the Mayor and Trustees to bring in an independent expert to assess the Ryan reval in light of the major deficiencies we have articulated. They have not done so, in my view, because they are afraid of what the findings of such an investigation will be.
They have not demanded that JF Ryan defend what he has done in a public meeting. (Ryan has "kindly" offered to provide consulting services in responding to criticisms of his reval for $200/hour -- we call that the ultimate in chutzpah). In stark contrast, when Tyler Technologies conducted the 2014 revaluation, I recall several meetings when Tyler brought its staff to public meetings at which residents asked difficult questions for hours and hours and Tyler's staff responded with thoughtful answers. I remember thinking -- wow, Tyler has some impressive staff members who really know their stuff.
Tthe Village could at least sue Ryan for breach of contract and recoup the monies it has paid him for his flawed work product and for damages resulting therefrom. Finally, I see no reason why the Trustees cannot sue to void the 2016 revaluation itself nothwithstanding the filing of the tentative assessment roll on June 1. I am a litigator. I think a federal lawsuit challenging the Ryan reval as violating the Equal Protection Clause would be successful, and other towns in Connecticut and Rhode Island have done so.
In your editorial, you mention that following the 2014 reval, a different group of angry, but more respectful, residents complained to the Board, but thanked members for their service. These "folks," as you say, were persistent, and ultimately the Board voted to go forward with the Ryan reval. Are you suggesting that if we now thank the Board members for their service, they'll authorize a third reval to fix the ungodly Ryan mess? If so, Mayor and Trustees, "thanks so much for your service."
Your assertion that "[s]ometimes there are unanticipated consequences of well-intentioned actions. This seems one of those times," really rankles me. Going forward with the second revaluation was never a well-intentioned action. It was folly from the start. I personally have good street cred to make this statement. I have now studied property tax revaluation in New York State for years, and I was the prime author behind the Scarsdale Forum's report recommending the first revaluation in 45 years. I have served on the Board of Assessment Review for several years now, and I have participated in several thousand grievance decisions. So when I first got wind that the trustees were considering another revaluation immediately after the Tyler revaluation, I publicly, vociferously, and repeatedly opposed going forward both in speeches to the Board of Trustees and in letters to the editor. I was joined by former Village Trustee Bob Harrison and former Scarsdale Forum President Howard Nadel. The trustees and then Mayor rejected our pleas, and caved in to the political pressure from the wealthy developers and estate owners in the Heathcote and Murray Hill areas and hired Ryan to do the second reval in a no-bid contract.
How could it be "well-intentioned" to hire JF Ryan in a no-bid contract? Given his position as the so-called "independent monitor" for the Tyler reval, how could Ryan give that reval a passing grade and then immediately proposition the Village to do a new reval using a completely different methodology while paying him a handsome fee ? That's such an obvious conflict of interest, particularly with a no-bid contract, that no reasonable person could say that the Village Board was "well-intentioned" in approving such a dealt? Bob Harrison made a lot of noise about this at the time, but the Mayor and Trustees ignored him.
What you don't know -- and what we just learned last week in reviewing emails produced by the Village in response to our requests under the Freedom of Information Law, is that when our Assessor advised the New York State Department of Taxation Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) (John Wolham) in early September 2014 of her and Ryan's plan for an updated 2016 revaluation using Ryan's "market model," Mr. Wolham expressed considerable skepticism. Mr. Wolham then conferred with his colleagues at ORPTS and found that they shared his skepticism. Indeed, no one at ORPTS could recall any revaluation projects in New York State in which Ryan's approach had been used. One colleague did recall:
this approach being discussed in a class taken quite some time ago. The instructors evidently presented this as a possibility, i.e., utilizing only a regression model to value residential properties. It was stressed, however, this would require:
1. LOTS of sales.
2. REALLY GOOD inventory and well-defined, homogeneous neighborhoods.
3. An EXPERT modeler.
Mr. Wolham went on to stress: "The consensus here [in ORPTS] is the conditions for this approach to be successful would be rare. Technically, an independent value from one of the three approaches is required to complete a reappraisal. While this would be a form of market, given the experiences in the initial project, I can't help but think this single approach to value would hamstring you to a degree. Where it works -- in other words, where the model does a good job predicting value for those unsold homes reasonably similar to those that sold -- no problem, but you have sufficient numbers of unique housing stock to make me question for how many homes this will work well. And what alternate will you then use? I can't help but think an additional approach would be helpful, especially a comparable sales estimate and I don't recall from our conversation why the additional use of a comparable sales approach would be problematic."
The Assessor and Ryan then privately deride Mr. Wolham's expert advice, especially Mr. Wolham's suggestion that an additional approach -- a comparable sales estimate -- would be helpful. Ryan writes to Ms. Albanese, the Scarsdale Assesssor: "You very effectively exposed the idiocy of this statement by describing succinctly that comp sales in fact caused most of your problems." Ryan continues: "As you can surmise from the tone of my remarks, it annoys the h... out of me that the State has the nerve to pass judgment on your professional opinion as to how to best proceed going forward..." Ms. Albanese responds: "[N]ow they want us to do it the same old, same old way and expect it to somehow turn out better. If it was the best approach to begin with, how and why did it turn out to be such a disaster. I actually wrote it originally with the word "disaster," but decided I shouldn't put that in writing ... just in case. Funny you chose the same word."
Fascinatingly, Ms. Albanese further notes to Ryan: "It will be interesting to hear Al's [former Village Manager Al Gatta's] take on all this.... My sense is that if Wolham is skeptical, Al won't want to push forward with it. We'll have to regroup on this if that's the case....What could a Plan B possibly look like????" Well, what was Mr. Gatta's take on this?
Was the Mayor and the Board privy to Ryan's and Ms. Albanese's rejection of ORPTS' expert advice against proceeding with Ryan's market model when they decided to sign onto the second reval? If not, why not? If Ryan agreed with Ms. Albanese that the Tyler reval was a "disaster," how in the world could he have properly fulfilled his responsibilities as the independent monitor if he gave his seal of approval to a "disaster" in exchange for his $110,000 fee?
How could the Board have been "well-intentioned" this Spring -- while there was still time to pull the plug-- when they discounted my and Bob Harrison's pleas that the Ryan revaluation was a "train wreck waiting to happen?" The Ryan reval mess is just not "unanticipated consequences of well-intentioned actions." These consequences were forewarned by me and others. We are not Chicken Little, and yes, the sky did fall.
The Ryan reval, as I have stated before, is largely undoing the excellent Village assessment roll that existed on May 31, 2016 which represented the fruits of the Tyler revaluation as adjusted by two full years of property tax grievances. The Ryan reval is hammering many of our seniors with unjustified and dramatic increases in their property valuations and will hit them with large property tax increases that many cannot withstand, while dropping many estate valuations to unjustified pre-Tyler levels. Taxpayers will have spent $1.5 million or more in fees and expenses to Tyler and Ryan to wind up with a seriously distorted assessment roll. They will spend out of pocket hundreds of thousands (or even a few million) dollars paying property tax services and lawyers to grieve their unfair assessments if they don't have the knowledge and courage to grieve themselves.
And you wonder why some residents are not especially polite when they call the trustees and the Mayor out at Village Board meetings? And you suggest that we who have been advocating against this sorry state of affairs become part of the solution -- as if we are part of the problem? Joanne, that's being disrespectful to your fellow neighbors who are spending hundreds of hours trying to right a serious wrong!
I have worked for years "from the inside" on working through the problems this Village and School District have faced. I have been (and am) President of my neighborhood association, an officer and director (and former President) of the Scarsdale Forum, a long-serving member of the Board of Assessment Review, and a member of SNAP. Bob Harrison has served the Village for decades more than me. Howie Nadel has likewise served the community for many years. We "insiders" were not heard by the powers that be at Village Hall, so how can you expect citizens new to the process to have any faith that their concerns will be heard either. Joanne, this simply is not the time to join hands and sing "Kumbaya." Best regards,Bob.
Robert J. Berg, Esq.
The Scarsdale 2016 Tax Re-Reval: Let Them Eat Cake
- Category: On Our Minds
- Published on 18 July 2016
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
This letter was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Ellen Neidig:
If the goal was to re-distribute Scarsdale's tax burden across the board, regardless of home size, age, condition, and actual sales value, it has become clear that the 2016 Tax Re-Revaluation is a smashing success! And clearly, that WAS the goal.
The 2014 revaluation undertaken by Tyler Technologies was, by all accounts (including that of its paid auditor, JF Ryan), fair, above-board, logical, and transparent. Human beings actually physically entered a majority of homes in the village and saw for themselves, up-close and personal, what a potential buyer would see. For instance, although our home is on a lovely .31 of an acre bordering White Plains, a potential buyer would surely notice that it has not been updated or remodeled since 1960, the year it was built (except for the addition of a deck). That buyer would also notice, for example, that our entire kitchen is roughly the size of many Scarsdalians' kitchen islands, our rooms are relatively small, our heating/air conditioning is all on one zone, and the building materials used are considered by the village to be C grade, among other possibly observations they might make which could negatively affect the sale price of our home. I can assure you, that buyer would not want to pay more for our house if we explained that the land it sits on is where the true value lies.
In 2014, welcoming the original Tyler representative into our little abode (1,978 sq. ft.), we felt quite confident that he would not fail to see the differences between our home and the new, F.A.R.-cap-exceeding McMansions springing up all around us. We knew our taxes were higher than many in the area whose houses had clearly been vastly enlarged and improved, but whose tax assessments hadn't gone up in more than 40 years. We believed that these, and many more inequalities, would be addressed by this much-needed revaluation, undertaken by one of the nation's leading and respected firms. And they were addressed. Our assessed value went down, not by much, but enough to prove to us that our house was seen, and comparatively valued, for the Scarsdale market.
Evidently, those residents in newer, ever-larger houses built on existing, smaller lots (due to village F.A.R. caps not being enforced during teardowns and remodels) were unhappy when their new assessments leveled the playing field by shifting their burden of taxes back to them, where they belonged, and giving those of us in our older, regular-sized houses a tiny breath of relief. Grievances followed, and were addressed. Things calmed down in the village and we all settled in until the next inevitable tax rise.
That is, until someone (we have yet to learn who) decided there needed to be ANOTHER revaluation less than two years later. No clear reason was given; some say it was to correct "outliers," artifacts that did not conform to the overall results. I am not a statistician, but I don't have to be one to know that 49% (the number of assessments that changed more than 10% in the 2016 revaluation) does not represent "outliers" by any stretch of that word's definition. No one seems to know what Ryan was told when he was unfathomably hired for six figures to re-do the re-reval and assure the outcome would keep the homeowners with the biggest houses and estates happy. But I think we can guess. Something like: "Fix this. Make the numbers seem more 'fair.' Even it out. And don't worry about the little guys...they don't have the extra money to get lawyers or grieve."
And fix it he did. Some more jaded folks might even say the fix was in, for those of us who assumed our taxes had finally settled down to where they belonged.
Without an auditor watching over his shoulder, without visiting the majority of village houses, without using the massive amount of raw data Tyler Technologies had certainly amassed, Ryan "fixed" it using some specious numbers culled from a shockingly small number of real estate sales. He did so on the backs of the village's small house owners and seniors, using the sales of only 220 homes for comparison, in what the village board is calling a "drive-by" evaluation. Even unsophisticated, non-numbers people understand that real estate "comps" do not tell a comprehensive story, and may be skewed in comparison to other homes in an area.
Now that this unnecessary re-reval is completed, the Board sits in meetings with their disgruntled constituents (can one even call us "constituents," if we weren't given the opportunity to originally choose the candidates?), rolling their eyes, making snarky comments to those who dare to question the process ("If you knew anything about how this was done, you'd know..."), and repeating like automatons, "If you have a problem, you can grieve or go to small claims court." They put the onus on the citizens who have been left in the dark about the whys, wherefores, and processes used in this re-re-valuation, which was, ostensibly, only to correct outliers and "make it right."
Listening to the stream of people who spoke at the June 14th and subsequent board meetings, it was not a surprise that so many were seniors and residents living in smaller properties. This was the group that had been sacrificed to soothe the ire of the more powerful, more vociferous, more able-to-afford-a-lawyer opponents of the first reval. And like the peasants complaining of inequities to the landed gentry in days of old, they were told, "We feel your pain, but there is nothing we can do," which sounded suspiciously like the modern-day version of "Let them eat cake," complete with eye-rolling and condescension.
Few, if any questions have been answered. JF Ryan and Associates has not been present to defend their "methods." No explanations have been given to address the apparent capriciousness of this second re-re-valuation. Here are just a few examples of the questions still unanswered:
-Why, since the village felt it necessary to pay for a second re-valuation, was no action taken to force Tyler Technologies to "fix" the so-called "mistakes" they had made on our dime?
-Why was JF Ryan, as the monitor working with Tyler on the first reval, not responsible for calling attention to issues with their methodology at the time?
-Why was JF Ryan given the contract for the second re-reval at all, if he played any part in the questionable first reval?
-If the Board of Trustees knew there were problems with the first reval, why did they throw good money after bad, and allow a member of the team that made so many mistakes in the first place to "correct" the problems with the first one? By paying Ryan for a second re-reval on the heels of the first, they have admitted carelessness, if not negligence, in spending taxpayers' money without reasonable care TWO TIMES.
-Is it possible that Ryan, by NOT calling attention to issues he saw during the first reval, positioned himself to make even more money by doing a second one?
-Why was no monitor put in place to work with JF Ryan on their re-reval?
-Is the fact that 49% of assessments in the village went up more than 10% as a result of the second re-reval proof that the first was deeply flawed, and if so, why isn't the Board of Trustees being held accountable for that $1,000,000 piece of negligence?
No answers to any of these and many other relevant questions have been offered to the public. Boards must carry liability insurance that covers their members in the case of negligence, incompetence, errors, and omissions. Why hasn't this means of redress been considered? Where is the oversight here? And why do these types of questions and issues keep coming up over and over with regard to our Village Board's transparency, and the transparency of our nominating and election process?
Watching the ineffectual and disdainful response of our Board in light of these serious questions and allegations, it's no mystery why so few residents participate in our "election" process. One cannot help but feel disenfranchised and overruled before even starting to question the Board. If a group of highly educated statisticians and analysts who dare to question methodology can be summarily shut down and dismissed, why would anyone else bother to try and voice their concerns?
Witnessing this debacle unfold has been a sobering reminder of why so many people are apathetic, and and feel it's pointless to make their valid opinions known. This has not been a moment of pride for Scarsdale.
Bob Harrison Owes the Trustees an Apology
- Category: On Our Minds
- Published on 25 July 2016
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
The following letter was sent to Scarsdale10583 by former resident David M. Brodsky:
Since my wife and I moved, after 23 wonderful years, from Scarsdale, I have followed with interest events in the Village, including the 2016 revaluation. One person I have heard speak on this issue at many meetings on the revaluation has been Robert Harrison.
When I watched the video of the public comments on July 12, 2016, I was stunned to hear him yelling at the Trustees. I was stunned to hear him personally calling out some of the present Trustees individually because the assessed value of their homes had gone down. I was stunned to hear Mr. Harrison make an apparent effort to shame them and, by extension, accuse them of causing their homes' valuations to be lowered. I was stunned to hear him threaten the Trustees with being sued for malfeasance.
Mr. Harrison seems to feel that he occupies a special position in the Village of Scarsdale, that he can say anything he wants at the allegedly-time-limited microphone for as long as he wishes, and that he can break as much glass and as many rules of appropriate conduct as he wants. He seems to feel that he can say whatever pops into his head, however off-base, insulting, and mistaken.
What he did to those Trustees on July 12 was cruel and it was shameful. He well knows, from his own two years as a Trustee, when the first revaluation in over 40 years was initiated and completed, how hard, how dedicated, how selfless each Trustee is. He also knows from his attending every meeting involving the revaluation process that the Trustees chose to have a 2016 reval because the 2014 reval was full of anomalies that cried out for change. He knows the Trustees chose Mr. Ryan because he was familiar with the first reval and was capable of completing a less expensive process that promised to correct the anomalies.
He also knows that no Trustee had the ability to, or ever would, interfere with the Village-wide assessment to benefit themselves or anyone.
Furthermore, he knows that the process by which the 2016 revaluation was conducted -- the so-called drive-by or external view method -- is an approved appraisal methodology under the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP, 2016-2017), upon which the Board of Trustees could appropriately rely.
Finally, in hindsight, he and we all now know that errors were apparently committed by Mr. Ryan and his team during the 2016 reval process, errors that that Trustees had nothing to do with. Yet Mr. Harrison deliberately sets out to inflame the audience and all others who watched the proceedings on cable TV, knowing that what he was saying and implying was false and malicious.
Bob Harrison owes those Trustees -- and the general public in Scarsdale -- an apology. I hope to hear or read that at the next meeting that he has done so.
David M. Brodsky
Ryan Reval: Pendulum is an Understatement
- Category: On Our Minds
- Published on 14 July 2016
- Written by Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez
This article was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez: Last week the Village of Scarsdale released a distribution chart on its website that showed percent change in total assessed value as stratified by neighborhood. In aggregate it appeared to show only modest differences in the valuation changes by neighborhood. However, that approach masked the substantial changes that have occurred with the J.F. Ryan revaluation at a more granular level. In multiple presentations to the Scarsdale Board of Trustees, others and I have pointed to the ill-conceived and unexplained decision to use a square root model for determining base home values from which multipliers are then applied as modifiers. Use of a square root model suggests that homes of 8,000 square feet should only be valued at twice the price of a 2,000 square foot home. This appears to be an industry assumption in mass appraisals and its economy of scale assumptions may be accurate when valuing commercial real estate or even many other residential markets. However, it is quite likely that Scarsdale is poorly suited to broad industry assumptions. Our housing stock spans over a century and there is an order of magnitude difference in the prices of our least expensive homes and those at the top of the scale.
Furthermore, the tear-down phenomena that is easily observed here is not common in most U.S. communities or even many neighboring communities.
In an effort to better illustrate the effects on Ryan's use of a square root model on total assessed value in Scarsdale, I decided to recreate the same chart furnished by the Village of Scarsdale but stratify it by home size instead of neighborhood. I took two additional steps not present in the Village of Scarsdale chart to eliminate data noise and improve clarity. First, I excluded homes that have changed in size from Tyler to Ryan. This eliminates valuation changes that would be expected with the application of any revaluation approach. Second, I highlighted the segment of homes that experienced no valuation change (0%). While the mass appraisal industry only attempts to be accurate to +/- 10% of home value, I think it is important for readers to see the exact position that differentiates valuation increases from decreases.
On April 21 of this year, John Ryan told the Board of Trustees that his goal was to create a uniform result. I say with great sarcasm, "mission accomplished." The result of Ryan's model is a uniform redistribution of tax burden based on the size of your home. We have a highly educated citizenry, and I suspect that no one here believes that this neatly staggered redistribution reflects the actual effects in nature of a more nuanced real estate market. As the chart above clearly shows, owners of homes less than 2,175 square feet have an almost 80% probability of being assessed upward and more than half of these home owners saw their valuations increase in excess of 10%. At the other end of this scale, more than 70% of homes greater than 4,400 square feet have been assessed lower.
When you see where 0% falls on the above chart you observe that there is a 50% difference in the proportion of increases versus decreases when comparing the smallest and largest quintiles of Scarsdale homes. This profound separation of winners and losers purportedly reflects market changes in just the last two years. However, such a stark redistribution was not even true with Tyler's revaluation based on 40 years of change. To prove this, I went back to earlier data for the same population of homes and examined the actual effects of Tyler.
The above chart does show greater valuation changes in the larger end of the Scarsdale home market. However, the position of the 0% change line is remarkably consistent for all but the largest quintile. Overall, 15% separates the balance of winners and losers between the quintiles with the greatest separation. This is a far cry from the 50% separation now present with Ryan. With Tyler, the majority of the community saw increases in assessed value regardless of home size. This is not surprising considering that the stratification of home value differences even among similar properties would be significant after not having conducted a mass appraisal in 40 years.
The greatest weakness of the Tyler model is the apparent overemphasis on increases on the largest homes. Some of this may have been warranted and some may have been overly exuberant as has been discussed at length two years ago following Tyler. However, nothing in the Tyler chart presented here suggests a giant giveaway to smaller homes that must now be corrected by Ryan.
When you study the combined effects of Tyler and Ryan, you find that the influence of Ryan's square root model overwhelms everything else.
The net combined effect of Tyler and Ryan is a total assessed value that disproportionately shifts the burden to smaller homes. This is the same effect achieved with Ryan alone which suggests that Ryan represents more than just a return to pre-Tyler valuations. Ryan leaves us in a position more extreme than before or after Tyler.
While I think it is poor public policy to rely on the cost and emotional distress of a formal grievance process to fix errors and omissions in a mass appraisal, at least Tyler's over-statement of values for some high-end and other homes could be and probably were corrected with grievances. Ryan has extracted so much value from the Assessment Roll (I estimate as much as a half billion dollars) that a correction for overvalued homes through grieving the Ryan reval will leave Scarsdale with a significantly lower total assessment than we had a year ago. This will mean that homeowners largely unaffected by the Ryan reval will nonetheless be obliged to pay an increase in taxes that exceeds the percentages approved by the Board of Education or the Board of Trustees.
Where do we go from here? It is unlikely that homeowners already burdened with the costs of a grievance process will spend even more money on a legal challenge even if it would be justified under the equal protection clauses of the U.S. and New York State Constitutions. We could wait for another revaluation, but what Board of Trustees will be brave enough to propose it? Will Scarsdale fester with the disaffection of large swaths of its electorate that will defend themselves against even more tax burden by voting against upcoming bond initiatives and annual budget increases? While Scarsdale has historically been very supportive of the resources needed to fund our excellent schools, municipal services and public employees, there is precedent for a no vote campaign and a patently unfair distribution of tax burden makes the community ripe for this kind of response. I urge the Board of Trustees to reconsider their position against independent analysis of the Ryan revaluation. Given that J.F. Ryan received no oversight and submitted his results too late to allow for an informal period of public review, an independent review seems the least the Board could do to reassert itself into oversight of this process.
Fox Meadow Road, Scarsdale