Town Board Leaning Toward Property Revaluation

Alsoat the Board: TOM Backs Two More Changes for Forest City Apartments

by Judy Silberstein

(November 13, 2008) The Mamaroneck Town Board appears to be leaning in favor of reassessing values of all residential and commercial properties for the first time since 1968. At least that was the impression given by Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe and council members following a presentation on Wednesday, November 5 by Thomas Frey, the consultant tasked with studying a possible revaluation process for Mamaroneck Town. (See: Town to Start Hearings on Property Revaluation.)

Mr. Frey’s presentation provided a quick background on property assessment and a summary of his report, which the board has been studying for a number of months. Briefly, he described how a municipality first decides on the sum it will levy to cover its budget. The tax levy is then divided among all the town’s property owners. For residential properties, the share is based on an assessment that reflects the fair market value of the house and land. (A copy of the entire report is available on the Town’s website. See: Revaluation Report.)

Over time, the market value of a particular property may shift relative to that of other properties in the community, due to improvements and additions (new bushes or bathrooms) or to changes in the popularity of certain architectural styles (Victorian homes vs. ranch homes) or other amenities (water views or proximity to the downtown, for example.) Some of the value shift is reflected in current assessments, which are modified upward when a homeowner takes out a building permit or downward when the owner successfully challenges an assessment through Mamaroneck’s Board of Assessment Review.

However, “one thing is given,” said Mr. Frey. “Different types of properties in different locations change in value at a different pace. After a period of time, without a reassessment and systematic analysis of all property values, the equity may diminish.”

Mr. Frey made it clear where he stood: “Some people pay more than their fair share and others less.”

He recommended a total revaluation of all properties, beginning with an “empty slate” and ending, after three years, with a complete new electronic data base with photographs and details on each parcel. The process would involve both computer modeling and a “smoothing out” via field assessments to catch problems in the model that “don’t make sense.” After that, there should be regular revisions, although he does not necessarily favor a yearly revaluation, he said.

Mr. Frey is conducting a series of revaluation “dog and pony shows” to educate the three municipal boards and the public of Mamaroneck Village, Larchmont Village and the unincorporated area of Mamaroneck Town. Then the Town Board will decide on whether to issue a request for proposals (RFP) from firms that would compete to prepare an updated assessment roll based on a review of each of the town’s 8597 parcels.

The cost of the revaluation would range from $75 to $135, or a total of $650K to $1.2M, depending on how thorough the study would be. Bronxville, a relatively small affluent community, paid approximately $300 per house for assessments that sometimes entailed three visits to the same home, said Mr. Frey.

Questions on "How To" Rather than "Whether To" Reassess

Mr. Frey responded to specific questions from the board: How long would it take to prepare an RFP and get a response? What about the part of Mamaroneck Village that falls in Rye Town? Could the costs be spread over three years? The questions were more about how to proceed rather than whether to proceed with the revaluation.

Councilman Ernie Odierna said he would “love to figure out a way of including the two villages in our deliberations when it comes to writing a proposal and making a final decision.” In response, Town Administrator Steve Altieri noted that it “is fine to keep the villages in the loop,” but ultimately it is Mamaroneck Town’s assessment rolls that would be reassessed. “So you will decide as the Town Board, not as the two villages, whether to adopt the new assessment rolls.”

Are You Committed?

Finally, Larchmont Village Trustee Anne McAndrews, who was in the audience, commented: “We’ve been through this before,” referring to a proposed county-wide revaluation vetoed by then Governor George Pataki and recommendations from a Mamaroneck Town committee on which she served. “Is it my understanding from this meeting that you are committed to this going forward?” she asked.

“I think we’re very serious about it,” said Supervisor O’Keeffe. “Do we want to do an RFP – I myself do,” she added. The next decision would depend on responses to the RFP, she said.

“We’re moving along,” said Councilwoman Phyllis Wittner.

“It’s a complicated, very difficult subject matter,” said Councilwoman Nancy Seligson. “The reason we’re looking at this is because there are inequities in the system. We want to make it fair and equal throughout the Town of Mamaroneck. That’s the only reason we’re doing this.”