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The number of real estate tax grievances filed in Scarsdale has reached a new high. According to the Scarsdale Village Assessor, 756 grievances were received this year, up from 551 last year. The challenges will need to be ruled on in the coming year and no one has provided the cost of dealing with all of these cases. However, the Village Assessors’ office, with a staff of 1.5 people has a Herculean task on their hands.

Why has the number of cases risen so dramatically? Since Scarsdale has not done a Village wide reassessment since 1969, there are many inequities among property assessments. In addition, the dip in housing values has highlighted these inequities and steep increases in real estate taxes have caused many to question their tax bills.

What can be done? John Wolham of the NYS Office of Real Property Services came before the Scarsdale Board of Trustees on Tuesday evening June 22 to educate and encourage the Scarsdale Board of Trustees to do a village wide revaluation of all properties. Since 2005 two thirds of communities in New York State have reassessed and Wolham presented the benefits of doing a reassessment which is a “comprehensive review of all properties in a community in which all assessments are set back to market value.” Furthermore, “the longer it has been since a reassessment, the more likely it is that some taxpayers are paying more than their fair share of taxes while others are paying too little.”

A reassessment has many benefits, including:

  • Fairness: Every owner pays no more than their fair share of taxes
  • Transparency: Taxpayers can understand the system
  • Tax Neutral: The total taxes raised remains the same
  • Reduced Litigation: Fewer law suits and challenges
  • Economic; Helps bond rating
  • Local Control: Eliminates impact of state equalization
  • State Aid: Village would receive up to $5 per parcel each year the tax roll is at 100%

Wolham then showed what could occur without regular reassessments by giving an example of two homes:

He showed two houses built 40 years ago both assessed at $10,000. The first home now has a current market value of $1,000,000 and the second has a market value of $500,000. However, since there had not been a reassessment, both still had the same assessed value of $100,000 and therefore both were paying the same taxes, despite the fact that one home was worth twice as much as the other one.

Next he provided an actual example of two Scarsdale homes that sold within months of each other. They had comparable market values, but widely varying real estate taxes:

Location:              Stratton Road                           Penn Road
Sale Price:           $1,275,000                               $1,285,000
Assessed Value        $18,300                                    $26,000
Estimated R.E. Tax   $20,889                                    $29,679
Real Tax Rate              1.64%                                      2.31%

Though there are many misconceptions about its affect, a reassessment does not raise taxes, it simply redistributes payments more equitably so that homeowners pay taxes based on the current market value of their homes.

The trustees posed questions to Wolham. Trustee Jonathan Mark questioned how residents would perceive a reassessment. Given that the assessment will cost $1,700,000, which is about $275 per household, what benefits would taxpayers realize? After a reassessment, the experience has been that one third of taxpayers see no change, one third sees an increase in their tax and the last third gets a decrease. If this is the case, two thirds of the population sees no benefit and Mark questioned the economic rationale for the expense.

Trustee Richard Toder spoke eloquently on the fairness issue, saying that the revaluation is “the right thing to do.” He believed that after the reassessment lawyers would have reduced incentives to file tax grievances, as assessed values would be aligned with market values.

Trustee Miriam Flisser asked whether village surreptitiously raise taxes during a revaluation and was assured that this was not the case. She was told that the total tax bill is simply reallocated amongst taxpayers.

Trustee David Irwin asked if data was available from towns that have already undergone a reassessment. He wanted information on the number of challenges in the year after the revaluation and in subsequent years. This data would allow Scarsdale to do an economic analysis of the costs vs. expected savings.

Robert Berg, Chairman of the TVCC Revaluation Committee asked Village Assessor Nanette Albanese how many of the 551 grievances filed last year resulted in reductions to assessments. The answer was a surprising 90%, which leads one to wonder what will happen in the future if results are similar this coming year. As more grievances will result in even further reductions for some, those who do not challenge their tax bill will pay an increased share of the tax to fund the budget.

It appears that the Village may have no choice but to move forward to stem the tide of challengers. The Board will continue to examine the issue and would like feedback from the public. Please share your comments in the section below.

The Land Use Committee of the Scarsdale Village Board of Trustees met on Thursday night June 3rd to consider an innovative way to save some of Scarsdale’s scant open space. In response to resident’s pleas to limit development, Mayor Carolyn Stevens is proposing that the Village put in place a plan to purchase available parcels and keeps them green.

Given even scanter resources, how could this be financed? Stevens is proposing that Scarsdale add a small percentage to the mortgage tax that newcomers pay when they purchase a home in Scarsdale. If the Village raised the mortgage tax by as little as a half of a percent, the revenue stream from the tax could be used to pay interest on loans for property acquisitions. The land purchases would be financed through the issuance of bonds.

What would the Village purchase? Stevens would initially like to target properties that often flood and are therefore not ideal for development. There are parcels that cover portions of the watercourse that could be developed into passive parks with retention basins, serving to increase our green space and alleviate flooding. In addition, the Village would consider purchasing properties that are now privately owned but have been deemed to be too wet for home construction.

There are several steps the Village would need to take to create and Open Space Fund.

  • Village management would draft a referendum to create an Open Space Fund
  • The Village would appoint a 5-7 member advisory board to review potential land acquisitions and to prioritize which purchases prove to be the best use of funds in preserving community character. Only properties on this list would be eligible for purchase.
  • The advisory board's preservation plan would need to be adopted 60 days before a community-wide vote.
  • The proposal would be voted on by the entire community in a village-wide referendum in November. The referendum would give the Village the right to change or repeal the mortgage tax by a deemed percentage. The referendum would only need to be held once and residents would vote on the tax change and the establishment of the fund.

In the future, the advisory board would have the power to add or omit properties from the purchase list and there would be a public hearing before any purchases were made.

Stevens shared information she had gathered in speaking to Village real estate brokers and members of community groups. Brokers felt that any negative impact of the tax on buyers could be mitigated by the prospect of moving to a greener community. She reported that the League of Women Voters, the Conservation Advisory Council and the Friends of the Scarsdale Parks were already excited about the idea.

Trustees discussed the pros, cons and timing at the meeting and many questions arose. Would this increase in the mortgage tax be viewed as an overall tax increase? Since it would only hit newcomers some said no, however it was pointed out that as a home seller, there would be a slight increase in the overall cost to purchase a home potentially making it more difficult to sell. Trustee Eisenman asked, why not just issue bonds to purchase desired properties? Stevens explained that the increase in the mortgage tax would create an ongoing fund that would allow the Village to purchase several parcels and make payments from the proceeds. How much could we raise from the mortgage tax increase? Village Management estimated that a .5% increase in the mortgage tax could raise $1 million dollars per year.

Due to the short time frame between now and voting day in November, the Trustees agreed to ask the Village Manager to develop a resolution to be submitted for consideration to the Trustees at their July meeting.

Scarsdale Neighborhood Association Presidents convened on May 17 at Village Hall for the SNAP meeting, led by Vice Chair Diane Hirschberg. It was the night before the School Board election and both Suzanne Seiden and Bob Harrison stopped by the meeting to introduce themselves and campaign for the support of the Neighborhood Association leadership.

On the agenda was John Bonanno from the TVCC Neighborhood Character Committee. Bonnano’s Committee is working with the Neighborhood Associations on developing a profile of each neighborhood to identify home styles, homes of distinction, heritage trees and other factors that define the area. The goal is to develop a miniature comprehensive plan for each area, which in the long term could be used to enforce contextual zoning. This is zoning that would regulate construction based on the character of the existing housing inventory including style, building heights, sizes and setbacks so that new construction and renovations would conform to existing homes. The Committee has asked each Neighborhood Association to complete an extensive questionnaire and so far a few have been completed.

Scarsdale Trustee David Irwin gave the group an update on Village business. He reported that the Village budget was passed and is up 5.95% over last year. All Village revenue sources have declined including mortgage recording taxes, sales tax, fees for building permits and interest income. All told, these revenue sources declined 9% or $3 million dollars at a time when health insurance and labor costs rose. Due to this decline in revenues, the Village is now behind in it’s road repair schedule and unless revenues recover the Village may be forced to raise taxes, reduce services or consolidate with other villages. Irwin credited the League of Women Voters with recommending that the Village gather community input and indicated that the Village may do so.

Irwin also reported that developer Frederick Fish would submit a revised proposal for a 15-year lease of Village land adjacent to the Bistro Citron Building. His last letter had proposed a 49-year lease of the driveway with an option for a 49-year renewal.

In other business, the Village is looking into measures to improve emergency response in light of communication failures during the March, 2010 storm. SNAP is slated to have representation on the committee that will study this issue and make recommendations.

Also on the minds of Village Trustees is a possible tax revaluation. Due to over 500 tax grievances filed this past year, the village had to raise the overall tax rate by 1% to fund the budget. Though it is not likely that the County will fund the revaluation the Trustees are hopeful they will find an outside funding source as the revaluation is expected to cost $1.5MM- $1.8MM dollars. The Trustees will be studying this issue in the coming months.

Janet Bell raised an issue of concern to the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition and area residents. The large “Office For Rent” signs at the Bistor Citron building violate village code and she asked Irwin why the village is not enforcing regulations.

The organization approved the nominating committee slate of SNAP officers for 2010-11 and renamed Linda Lieberman as Chair, Diane Hirschberg as Vice Chair, Jim Pullman as Secretary and Jay Klein as Treasurer.

Scarsdale Village Trustees are now discussing the possibility of a village-wide real estate tax revaluation, whereby real estates values for all existing properties would be reappraised. A revaluation is a comprehensive update of all property values in the community to ensure that each owner pays only his or her fair share of the tax burden. The last time this was done in Scarsdale was 1968,  42 years ago, and therefore the Village relies on obsolete property valuations. As a result, some over-assessed property owners may be subsidizing those who are under-assessed.

In order to learn more about tax revaluations, Scarsdale10583.com posed some questions to Village Manager Al Gatta who is the Chair of the Westchester County Assessment Commission and an expert on revaluations. Here are his answers:

1. The increase in tax grievances filed in Scarsdale this past year may be an indicator of perceived tax inequities – do you agree? Although there are perceived and real inequities in any property tax system, I feel that the increase in tax grievances has more to do with the current economic and financial climate than with any possible inequities. This item may be confused since most residents advance the argument of unfair treatment in their appeals.

2. Since a revaluation would cost $1.5 -$1.8MM, and the total tax bill for the Village is what it is, how would the village recoup the cost of a revaluation? The Village would not look to recoup their investment for a full revaluation of all properties. The benefits come in more accurate values and equitable treatment for residents. Most people generally confuse a revaluation of property values to mean that more revenue will go to the municipalities. That concept is not so and the amount of taxes that one pays is based on the level of spending. Property is only valued by local governments for one reason; to tax. There are so many different values attached to a property that a person can often be confused. For example, there is market value, 100% equalized value, mortgage value, insurance value and assessed value. Most of the time, each one of these valuations are different since the reason behind each valuation is quite different.

3. In the past, have assessors asked for access into homes to do the evaluation? By law, are residents required to let them in? And if they don’t, how is the house revalued? During a property revaluation, attempts are made to enter each property. Residents are not required to allow an Assessor or a technician from a revaluation team to enter the property. However, if the Assessor is not permitted to enter the home, values are calculated through the use of information available on the characteristics on a property card, realtors descriptions, windshield observations and the context of the neighborhood. If a homeowner, as a result, is not satisfied, of course an appeal can be submitted and at the hearing before the Board of Assessment Review, the Assessor often requests that he/she be allowed to enter the premises. Sometimes it works and when it doesn’t, values in general are not changed.

4. Lee Kyriacou, Executive Director for the N.Y.S. Office of Real Property Services said that when a revaluation is done, typically one third of residents’ taxes go up, one third stay the same and one third are reduced. Is this correct? I agree with Mr. Kyriacou. Having completed three revaluations in the past, two in Hartford, CT and one in Methune, MA, the results were divided in thirds across the board.

5. Are residents compelled by law to accept their new assessment? Can they grieve it? If so, could the Village expect to get a number of grievances to the new assessments? Should a community undertake a property tax revaluation, an expert firm is retained to perform the data collection, research, analysis and valuations. At the completion of a revaluation, which could take up to 18 months, all residents receive what is termed an Impact Notice which provides information that has been collected on the property and the proposed new value. After receipt of the Impact Notice, a resident can schedule an appointment with one of the real estate experts and have an opportunity to correct any inaccurate information and dispute the value. Therefore, the number of grievances can actually decrease after a revaluation.

6. If older residents who have lived in their homes for many years are reassessed, do you expect that many would have to move? Older residents would not have to move after a revaluation since many relief measures exist in the current real property tax law including senior, military and veterans exemptions, income thresholds, phase in of new value and many more.

7. Under a reassessment, would new construction still be assessed at a higher rate than old homes? In regard to new construction, it would be treated in the same manner as all other properties. Once the property characteristics are gathered, analyses are made and various valuations methodologies are applied for all properties. Then a value is obtained.

8. What factors will the Village Trustees consider when making the decision whether or not to do the revaluation? Do you have any idea of the timing? I do not know the factors the Village Board of Trustees would consider when making a decision on whether to initiate a community wide property tax revaluation. It should be cautioned that the Village Trustees are not anywhere close to making such a decision and may never decide to undertake a revaluation. Revaluations for a community the size of Scarsdale could take anywhere from 12 to 24 months;

9. How many people would need to be retained to do it, and how long would it take? There are a few properties revaluation firms in the Country and depending on the number of parcels, a determination would be made as to the number of people involved. The largest number of individuals would be involved in data collection and less involved with the analysis. In regard to valuation methodologies, only a few would be involved as this task requires either a very experienced real estate appraiser, a post 4 or 5 year education in mathematics and/or a post 4 or 5 year education in statistics;

10. Are there other towns in Westchester who have recently done a revaluation who had not done one in 45 years (like Scarsdale?) What can we learn from their experience? The only two communities to undertake a revaluation in Westchester are the Town of Rye and the Town of Pelham. In regard to the experience of those communities, a response is generally influenced by the point of view of the observer. For example, outcomes can be reviewed in regard to fairness and equity, number of grievances, and values as they are carried forward in comparison with other communities by using the measure of the coefficient dispersion. Essentially, results can be looked at from a qualitative and quantitative platform.

Mayor Carolyn Stevens also commented on the possibility of a revaluation. According to Stevens, the Village Board believes it is the right thing to do but is considering the cost as well as resident’s reaction to the $1.5-$1.8 million dollar expense. The Board is weighing the cost of a revaluation against the expense of not proceeding, and they are now compiling the tab for defending the Village against the ever-growing number of tax grievances stemming from perceived inequities.

What is your opinion on a revaluation? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Burglary: a safe containing important documents, gold coins, and a $50,000 fountain pen collection was stolen from a Lebanon Road home, sometime between 6:30 pm on 5/14 and 9:30 pm on May 15th. The safe had been in a second floor office, covered by clothing. The safe was heavy and would have required two people to carry it. There were no signs of forced entry into the house and cash, jewelry and electronics placed in the same area as the safe were left untouched.

Damage: The glass storm door was damaged and the front door was found ajar at a Black Birch Road home at 4 pm on 5/12. Kristina Posey returned home to find the broken glass. Police determined that the glass panel had not been properly secured and bumped against the front door when it fell.

A Birch Lane home was egged at 10:30 on Friday night 5/14. The resident heard shouting and a car driving way.

Just minutes later, at 10:40 on Friday night, a rock was thrown through the bedroom window of a Cayuga Road home.

A Fairview Road woman reported that someone stuck a stick through their rear screen door and created a hole sometime during the weekend of May 14th

A Heathcote Road woman reported that someone had spray painted a sign she keeps on her front lawn to slow traffic when her children are outside playing. The incident was reported on 5/12.

Fights: Police responded to a 911 call to a Continental Road home on the afternoon of 5/12. A mother and son had gotten into an argument and following the spat the son took the car keys and drove away.

An altercation broke out between Robert Rosenberg of Kent Road and Paul Cintra of Greenkeepers Tree Company. Mr. Rosenberg was walking across the Post Road at Olmstead Road in the crosswalk on the morning of 5/13 when he claimed that Mr. Cintra, who was driving, came close to hitting him. Cintra was making a left onto Tompkins Road from the Post Road.

Missing: A Middle School girl failed to attend classes at the school after she was dropped off there on the morning of May 10. The school notified the student’s father, who called the police. Patrol searched the school and found the student in the downstairs bathroom. She was turned over to her school guidance counselor for follow up.

Strange Missive:
A Zachys employee reported that he received a strange letter including newspaper clippings, political commentary, rantings and ravings on May 11. He wanted to record the incident.

Power Tool: A Sage Terrace man came to police headquarters on May 2 to report that someone was using a power saw at 9:30 am at his neighbor’s home in violation of the village code. Since police did not witness the incident they could not issue a summons. The man then took the incident, which he documented on video, to the Village Attorney who was also unable to take action and referred the incident back to the police.

Solicitor: A Hillview Road resident reported that a man was going door-to-door, claiming to be soliciting for a construction company on the afternoon of May 11. Police found the man who was an employee of Urban Development Solutions of Michigan City, Indiana. He was actually selling magazine subscriptions and was issued a Village Code Summons for soliciting without a permit.

A Black Birch Road man reported fraud on his Yahoo account on May 12. Karl Maramorosch responded to a fraudulent email requesting his date of birth and Yahoo password. With that information, someone changed his password, locked him out of his account and sent emails to his contact list. The emails requested $1,940 to assist Maramorosch, claiming that his “hotel in Wales was razed by fire and he needed $1,940 to relocate.” Upon learning about the fraudulent emails from a friend, the resident contacted Yahoo to block his old account and establish a new one.

Uninvited Guest: Warren Cole of Manhattan entered an Innes Road home without ringing the bell on the evening of May 12th. He had come to Scarsdale to attend a Shiva but found out he had the wrong address. The surprised resident let him know that the family he was looking for no longer lived there.

Found: Andrew Weisfeld of Heathcote Road found a brown Labrador retriever on Heathcote Road on the morning of 5/13. He attempted to return the dog to the owner but no one was home so he placed the dog in a dog pen in his own backyard. When the owner came home, the dog was returned.

Man with a Camera
: On the afternoon of 5-14 a caller reported a man with a camera on the grounds of Scarsdale High School. Police searched the area but were unable to locate him.

A large group of students were reported to be hanging out at Hyatt Field on Friday night May 14 at 9 pm. Police arrived and saw several kids leaving the area.

Central Taxi picked up two boys at 65 Saxon Woods Road at 1:49 am on May 15th. He drove them to Grove Street in White Plains and they ran out of the taxi without paying.

Followed: On Saturday morning 5/15 Sherrian Grant said that she was followed by a dark car with tinted windows as she walked on Fenimore Road in Mamaroneck. She flagged down another car and was driven to East Parkway in Scarsdale where she reported the incident.

Barry Tucker of Manhattan claimed that his EZ Pass was stolen from his car when it was transported from Palm Beach Florida to the Quaker Ridge Golf Club in April. Though there was an EZ Pass in the car, he later determined that it was not his and it had been placed in his car to replace his EZ Pass. Over two hundred dollars in unauthorized charges were made on his account. The incident was reported on 5/15.

Beer Cans:
A Foxhall Place resident found empty beer bottles in his bushes on the morning of 5/15. Police agreed to take extra ride-bys to check the property in the future.

Ground Hog Day
: White Birch Lane residents found a sick animal in their yard on Sunday afternoon 5/16. Police arrived and identified it as a sick ground hog. They received permission to kill it and fired two rounds at the ground hog and then removed it from the yard.

Car Accidents:

A Scarsdale resident, driving a 2008 Cadillac was making a left turn onto Popham Road from Garth Road when he struck a pedestrian in the crosswalk at noon on Wednesday May 12th. The pedestrian, Samuel Cohen of Lynwood Road, Scarsdale, complained of pain in his leg and was taken to Westchester Medical Center by SVAC.

Dean David Mendelowitz’s 2007 Honda was parked in the staff lot at SHS on May 11th when it was hit by another car driven by a student.

On the morning of 5/15 two cars collided at the intersection of Mamaroneck Road and the southbound exit ramp of the Hutchinson River Parkway. The collision caused a 1999 Chevy Van to spin around, leave the roadway and ram into a stonewall owned by the Saxon Wood Golf Course. No injuries were reported.

Jean Eisenstein, a 97 year-old White Plains driver ran into a car driven by Cole Ilana Yaverbaum of Larchmont on Popham Road on Friday morning 5/14. Yaverbaum was travelling west on Popham Road when Eisenstein turned left from Lockwood onto Popham and caused the collision.

Lucas Remedios of Hartsdale was the victim of a hit and run accident when a pick up truck hit his car on Fenimore Road and sped away without stopping. The incident occurred at 4 pm on 5/13.

Two 78-year old drivers ran into each other on Sprague Road, when one driver attempted to go around the other. The driver thought the car she was passing was parked.

From the Greenburgh Police Blotter:

Impaled Deer: On Monday night May 10 around 10 pm a large deer was found impaled on the fence of Mount Hope Cemetery. Two stakes from the fence had impaled the deer in the chest and lungs and the animal was struggling to breathe. Police shot one .40 caliber round, killed the deer and removed it from the fence. Notification was made to the Town Highway Department to remove the carcass and Mt. Hope Cemetery was also contacted to advise them of the incident.

While shopping at the Christmas Tree Shop on the afternoon of 5/12, Anita Cozza, age 63 of Armonk had her bag stolen while it was sitting in her shopping cart. She was looking at items on shelves when she noticed her bag was missing. Though the video surveillance was on at the store it did not record the incident.

Nadin Abraham of Chicago came into the Chase Bank on East Hartsdale Avenue on the afternoon of 5/12 and attempted to withdrawal $3,900.00 from an account. The account was flagged for possible fraudulent activity by the Chase security department. Abraham did have a driver’s license with the correct name but when the bank called the fraud department she fled the bank and left the license.

An employee of Urban Development Solutions was found going door to door on Tanglewood Road in Scarsdale on the afternoon of May 15. He was advised of the town code that prevents solicitation without a permit and he was taken to Central Avenue by police where he was picked up.

A Nissan Pathfinder, parked on Dromore Road on Monday morning 5/17 was vandalized. Someone broke the rear drivers side window of the car and stole a purse from the backseat. The purse contained a blackberry, several credit cards, a NYS driver’s license and $50 in cash.

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