By Holly Crocco
Many Town of Kent residents were appalled this year when their property tax bills showed a dramatic increase in the portion they pay toward the Carmel Central School District, and part of the reason is because the town hasn’t performed a townwide property reassessment in several years.
“We realized we have a serious need to do a townwide reappraisal, to try and help us prevent tax shifts in the future to some extent,” explained Town Assessor Seth Plawsky at the Sept. 19 Kent Town Board meeting. He said he’s hoping a reassessment can be conducted next year.
John Whalem from the New York State Office of Real Property Tax Services, which is part of the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance, explained that part of the reason Kent residents saw such a dramatic increase in the school tax portion of their bills is because the other towns in the district typically perform reassessments every year, and are therefore at a 100 percent equalization rate, while Kent is only at 68 percent.
According to Whalem, a reassessment is a review of all the parcels in town to assure they are at a stated uniform percent of value, typically at 100 percent. During a revaluation, the assessments for all properties are reset to the current market value based on the applicable valuation and taxable status dates.
“We pay property tax in proportion to the value of our property,” he said.
When a town goes several years without reassessing properties, two houses may be have the same assessed value even though one’s market value has increased significantly while the other’s hasn’t. So, if one home has a market value of $1 million and another has a market value of $500,000, but both have an assessed value of $100,000, the property owner with a lesser value home is paying more than they should, and subsidizing the other homes.
“If I could point to one thing, and one thing alone – the reason for doing a reassessment – this is it,” said Whalem. “Reassessment and the system of assessment and the town’s roll that is published every year, it’s supposed to be about fairness.”
Additionally, while many residents believe the only reason a town does a reassessment is to increase property taxes, Whalem claims that is not the case. “The process of reassessment is tax-neutral, except to the extent that the project costs money,” he said. “Other than that, reassessment does not increases taxes”
Councilman Christopher Ruthven asked, if Kent homes had been at the proper assessed value, would residents’ school taxes have gone up so much?
“I think a lot of people are here (at the meeting) because their school tax bills went up more than they’ve ever gone up before,” he said, noting that the school budget increased $1.8 million, and the total amount levied on Kent taxpayers was $3.5 million, “which is almost double what their budget went up, and everybody else is paying less.”
Whalem explained that residents in other towns within the school district also saw increases, just not as dramatic. “They all did a reassessment, so it really has more to do with how the properties were valued,” he said.
Resident Cliff Narby disagreed with the logic presented by the state representative.
“Quite frankly, this presentation is garbage,” he said. “I think we all know that the value of our houses has gone up in the past three or four years… But we also know that the same applies to Patterson, Carmel, Southeast, Putnam Valley – all around us.”
Referring to figures provided by the county, Narby said the Town of Carmel showed an increase of total assessed value from $6.1 million in 2022 to $6.4 billion in 2023. “We know that house values didn’t go up by just (that much) in the last year,” he said, questioning how closely the state looks at what towns are submitting as their equalization rates.
“I say that if all other things are equal, if the school board raises its tax levy by 1.9 percent… then you would expect your tax bill to go up by 1.9 percent. Mine went up by 10.2 percent,” said Narby. “The Office of Real Property Services in New York has done a very poor job of appraising how well the assessors in those other towns did their assessment, and as a result… the Town of Kent taxpayers are being screwed. We’re going to subsidize the other towns.”
Whalem explained that every municipality is required to state the level of assessment they are at, and if the state’s analysis confirms within plus- or minus-5 percent, it uses the town’s provided equalization rate.
“I agree, in part, with what you said – that if all else would be equal, the way you describe how it should work, would work, but the apportionment process clearly showed that not all else was equal,” he said.
Councilman Shawn Boyd pointed out that if a revaluation takes place and properties are valued properly, it could actually lessen residents’ school taxes, depending on what happens to the values of the other properties.
Plawsky said the only way to make sure residents are fairly paying what they should is to reevaluate everyone’s property value.
“It’s the budget and hence the levy that sets how much we pay in, not the total amount of the assessments,” he said. “Short of doing a reassessment, there’s no way to get everybody back to where they should be. We need to reset. And that would be the biggest thing that we capture from doing this.”
“We’re tired of kicking the can down the road – we’ve got to catch up, we’ve got to get this right to benefit all residents,” he said. “We’re going to be budgeting for this. We’re going to have to come up with a way to pay for this.”