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You are here: Home Arts & Entertainment Scarsdale Committee for Fair Assessments Appeals Justice Tolbert's Ruling on the Article 78
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Scarsdale Committee for Fair Assessments Appeals Justice Tolbert's Ruling on the Article 78

proceedingThe Scarsdale Committee for Fair Assessments is making another attempt to win their Article 78 proceeding asking that the Village of Scarsdale to annul the 2016 revaluation. Attorney Bob Bernstein is appealing the last decision against them, alleging that the presiding judge in the original proceeding was wrong on the facts of his decision:

1) That the Committee lacked standing.
2) That the Scarsdale School district was not named, even though taxes are paid to the district.
3) The committee had no valid claim.

Here is the appeal:

The legal theory presented in their case, and quoted in part here, states "the Petition alleged that Scarsdale’s assessor conducted a town-wide reassessment using a formula that systematically assessed larger properties on average at 90% of market value, while systematically assessing smaller properties on average at 100% of market value, where the assessor did not deny using such a formula without having any empirical data to support it."

Bernstein argues that the 150 petitioners do have standing and that those with smaller properties “suffered injury in-fact.” He also argues that though the Scarsdale Committee for Fair Assessment does not itself own property, it is “comprised of taxpayers each of whom alleged that they own taxable real property.”

He contends that the failure to name the school district was not a reason for dismissal, saying, “When taxpayers commence an Article 78 proceeding against municipal officials to raise statutory and constitutional challenges based on uniformity and equality to a tax assessment roll, unless relief is also being sought against the school district and county, they are no necessary parties and do not therefore need to be named.”

About the court’s finding that there was no valid claim, the appeal says, “Here, the trial court appears to have overlooked the requirements on a motion to dismiss to: liberally construe the petition, accept all of its allegations as true, accord petitioners every favorable inference, and decide only whether the alleged facts fit within any recognized legal theory.”

Given the passage time, it is difficult to imagine a fair remedy. In the intervening years, many have grieved their taxes resulting in revised assessments and many homes have been sold to new owners. It would be extraordinarily complex to roll back the assessment roll to 2014 valuations and reimburse those who have overpaid and bill those who underpaid.

Furthermore, returning to 2014 assessment values may in fact be less equitable than leaving the roll as is. An analysis provided on this site last year by Brian Nottage found that despite the questionable provenance and results of John Ryan's model for the 2016 revaluation, the actual outcome of the 2016 assessment was acceptable. The key difference was that Mr. Nottage used post-revaluation sales numbers, rather than the complaint's pre-valuation sales.

More recent sales data shows that the valuation of high end homes has dropped, due to the change in tax laws regarding the deduction of state and local taxes and limits on the deductibility of mortgage interest. So it’s questionable whether a return to 2014 valuations would be more equitable.

Commenting on the appeal, Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez, Co-Chair of the Committee for Fair Assessment said, “We said months ago when the original ruling came down that the committee was planning to appeal. The cost of the appeal was covered by the committee.”

Lee Fischman said, "This past spring, I analyzed assessments versus sales since 2009, had it reviewed by a sophisticated neutral party and then circulated my work within the Scarsdale Forum's Assessment Committee, which I co-chaired. The analysis was not included in the Committee’s recent report, as we judged it out of scope. Nonetheless, the very small group of people leading this law suit received it. My analysis found that the 2016 revaluation was if anything superior to the 2014 revaluation, probably more equitable according to various measures, and probably more accurate overall. Even I was surprised, but my findings did confirm earlier studies with less data. Rolling back Village assessments to values determined in 2014 will not make them more equitable. This appeal does not serve the interests of residents. I originally contributed to the Article 78 proceeding but based on what I've since learned through exhaustive research, I asked that my name be removed from the suit. Unfortunately it was not possible. With my name removed, there would be 149 petitioners, not 150."

Guyon Knight of Quinn Emmanuel one of the attorneys for the intervenors said, “Justice Tolbert was right to dismiss the committee’s lawsuit and we expect that his decision will be affirmed. It’s unclear why the committee waited so many months to file this appeal but after two years of BAR grievances and tax collection this lawsuit makes even less sense now than when it was first filed. Worse, the relief that the committee is seeking would blow a massive hole in the Village’s budget by forcing it to refund two years of taxes paid to the Village, County and School. We expect the second department will affirm Justice Tolbert so that does not come to pass."

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