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Opinion: Berg Calls the Upcoming Revaluation a Train Wreck Waiting to Happen

cherrytreeHere are comments on the tax revaluation submitted to Scarsdale10583 by resident Robert Berg and read at the Village Board meeting on April 26, 2016: As someone who has made revaluation in Scarsdale his second calling, I'm usually very cued in to what's going on in this process. That's why I was shocked to learn last Friday morning -- from reading an email I received from Hamlet Hub -- that a meeting of the Committee of the Whole was held last Thursday evening at which John Ryan provided a 2016 revaluation update.

Had I received timely notice, I would have appeared at this meeting, and I would have participated in the very important public discourse. Yet this meeting took place with no obvious advance publicity.

Indeed, the meeting probably would have occurred with no public participation at all had not resident Steve Rakoff serendipitously walked by Rutherford Hall on an unrelated matter, seen the microphones being set up, and asked what was about to take place.

Mr. Rakoff immediately sprang to action and lassoed about a dozen of his Heathcote/Murray Hill neighbors -- and the indomitable Bob Harrison -- to run down to Village Hall and join in.

The 2016 revaluation -- which I opposed, on multiple occasions last year -- is probably the most significant event in the Village this year. People are still traumatized by and recovering from the 2014 revaluation.

The 2016 revaluation will directly affect the property tax burden each and every property owner in the Village must bear and so, it's important to everyone in the Village.

Given the considerable public interest in this topic, I'm at a loss to understand why the Village failed to publicize Mr. Ryan's Revaluation Update in advance. Even if legal public notice of the meeting was issued, the effort was grossly deficient for such an important meeting.

I'm sure that had the meeting been properly publicized, Rutherford Hall would have been packed with residents. I'm sure that the Scarsdale Inquirer would have sent its reporter to the meeting. So after I finish my remarks, can someone explain what went wrong?

I spent the entire afternoon last Friday watching the meeting. While I disagree strongly with many of the comments made by the Heathcote/Murray Hill residents, I do agree that they raised many very valid concerns about the conduct of the ongoing revaluation.

When I hear John Ryan speak, it's like listening to Donald Trump!

Mr. Ryan simply is not capable of giving a straight answer to a direct question. He talks about how GREAT his model is; how TRANSPARENT the revaluation process is; how INTUITIVE his model is; how EVERYONE will easily be able to understand the model and the valuation of any property; how the model will account for ANY and ALL VARIABLES in a property.

Yet, here we are – just a month before the tentative assessment roll must be filed by law, and Mr. Ryan still won't let any member of the public see his model. He won't answer any specific questions about the model. He still plans on TWEAKING the model up until the very last day – June 1 – when he runs the model, and THEN, LIKE DONALD TRUMP'S AMERICA, everything will be GREAT again.

As I've told this Board before, John Ryan's continuing inability to provide specific answers to questions about his methodology does not inspire any confidence that this new revaluation will be an improvement over the Tyler Technologies revaluation two years ago.

But what's really wrong here, and what's grossly unfair to Scarsdale property owners, is that the new tentative assessments won't be revealed until June 1, 2016, the very day that begins the annual three week period for property owners to file tax grievances. Because this is a townwide revaluation, every single property owner of the 5,941property parcels in Scarsdale will be receiving a completely new property tax assessment, using an entirely new methodology. Property owners will then have a mere three weeks to file a property tax grievance if they disagree with the new assessment.

What's especially wrong is that property owners will have no opportunity to discuss the new tentative assessment with the Assessor's Office beforehand. If in any doubt, a property owner will be obliged to file a tax grievance in order to protect his or her rights.

Moreover, taxpayers who decide to challenge their new assessments will have to obtain independent appraisals from licensed appraisers if they have any realistic shot of winning their grievances.

Having grieved my Scarsdale property taxes many times in the fourteen years I've lived here, I have incurred the considerable expense of obtaining an independent appraisal several times. An independent appraisal from a good appraiser costs around $750 or more for a Scarsdale residential property.

I have also spent a lot of time litigating/negotiating with the Village, as Wayne and Nanette know, before usually obtaining a reduction in our property taxes. (Nanette did beat me in trial a number of years ago; I still lose sleep over that one.).

The grievance process is both costly and time consuming, and Scarsdale property owners shouldn't be forced into this grievance process because John Ryan waits until the very last minute to finalize his model and there's no time for informal meetings to resolve any issues on the valuation with him or Nanette before the grievance filing deadline.

Further, how in the world will Scarsdale property owners be able to secure independent appraisals from good appraisers who know the Scarsdale market in a three week period at the beginning of June when many other property owners in Westchester have already booked these appraisers and are filing their tax grievances?

It's simply not going to be possible! And that inability will likely doom those property owners' chances to succeed in their tax grievances.

Now I heard Mayor Mark say in his remarks this evening that he understands that property owners will have until September 1, 2016 to submit appraisals to the Board of Assessment Review provided they file their grievances by June 21. The Board of Assessment Review is an independent Town Board which hears property tax grievances in the first instance. I happen to be a member of that Board. Speaking for myself, the Board has not met this year, and won't meet until Grievance Day. We haven't been asked to extend the deadline for receiving appraisals. Generally, as a matter of courtesy to Scarsdale property owners, we do accept appraisals submitted after Grievance Day, but normally our deadline is mid-July, though we have accepted a couple in August. However, we normally complete our grievance review by early August. This year, with a new revaluation, I expect the number of grievances filed to be close to the 950 or so filed in connection with the 2014 revaluation.

I simply don't see how we can possibly accept appraisals until September 1, 2016 since the assessment roll must be finalized and filed by September 15, 2016 by law. The burden on the BAR, whose members are all volunteers, is simply too great.

This entire revaluation project is a train wreck waiting to happen in just over one month's time. The Heathcote/Murray Hill residents who turned out for last Thursday night's meeting are rightly upset with the vacuous answers they were given, and they demonstrated a very real and appropriate lack of confidence engendered by Mr. Ryan's presentation.

I strongly urge the Village Board to delay the property tax revaluation until next year (using a valuation date of July 1, 2016).

Now that Mr. Ryan has developed what he believes to be a workable and wonderful model, he can disclose the inner workings of the model publicly and receive educated feedback from the community to improve the model, if needed.

He can run the model using this year's sales and release tentative assessments early next year. Then, the Village should allow an informal grievance process to occur in the Spring so that residents can receive a fair shake before having to incur the upset and expense of filing a tax grievance.

Thank you very much.

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