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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, July 17, 2008

Welsh proposes full-value for Rensselaerville

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Ray Welsh wants the town to go to full value assessment. 

A Rensselaerville resident who works as an auditor for the state, he contends that, should the state provide some form of tax relief, the town needs to keep its assessments current in order to maximize benefits for each of the town’s property owners.  He made a presentation to the town board last week. 

Welsh is a member of Rensselaerville’s planning board and served on the town’s land-use committee, which recently wrote a comprehensive land-use plan and drafted zoning laws.

“My concern has always been as a property owner going back for 30 years,” he said.  “My feelings have been like this for a long time.  You cannot say that every property in town, like a house down in Preston Hollow, has gone up 200 percent, let’s say, compared to one in the hamlet of Rensselaerville.” 

There are 1,832 taxable parcels in Rensselaerville, a rural town that has not undergone a full-value reassessment in over a decade.  Its properties’ full values are determined by applying a .54 equalization rate set by the state. 

“This rate is not determined by our town assessors, the people familiar with our properties and with the local real estate market, but by New York State’s Office of Real Property Services,” says Welsh in a letter to The Enterprise editor. 

He finds fault in assessments being determined by the office using a sampling — such as 20 parcels of the town’s 1,400, according to a town census two years ago — to determine the rate.

“It concerns me because the sampling that they use is only a small portion of the town,” said Welsh. 

The state-set rate is meant to equalize property values among municipalities that assess differently so that property owners are paying their fair share. 

“I don’t know what the sample is,” said Joe Hesch, ORPS spokesman.  “It depends on the size of the municipality and the types of property.  I think what they like to say is it’s ‘a statistically-valid sample.’” 

Welsh said of the town’s equalization rate, “What they’re saying is that every property in the town, on average, has gone up, has doubled in value, in the last 10 years.  Well, not necessarily every property has gone up double in value.  Some may have gone up double.  Some might have gone up triple,” he said, “but the result is the rest of the people in the town are paying for the fact that some people’s properties may have gone up higher than others.” 

Hesch called an equalization rate “an aggregate.” 

“It’s the number we come up with in determining the full value of the entire municipality.  It would be almost impossible to sample every municipality in the state,” he said.  “In Rensselaerville, being it’s a small community, it still would be a very difficult prospect to go out and appraise [all] property in the town…So they have to use a sampling to get the job done.  It’s not random.  They try to get a representative sampling.” 

Hesch said of maximizing benefits, such as a STAR (School TAx Relief) exemption, “If it’s a certain dollar amount, you look at the full dollar amount and you apply the equalization rate to bring it to the average level of assessment in a municipality.” 

Welsh said, “I have an accounting degree and a couple of master’s degrees in science and accounting so numbers are my forte.  And, when I look at tax bills and I look at the assessment…rate, as far as school taxes, especially within the school district of Middleburgh, and I see that the town of Rensselaerville is assessed at the highest rate of all the towns that are in that school district, then it gets to me.” 

Welsh said his house may be worth the same as one in Middelburgh but, because of the assessments, those in the nearby town are getting a lower rate per thousand than he is. 

Welsh also says it is difficult to compare similar homes in different parts of the town on the same amount of land because they might be in different school districts and one might be closer to Albany, where more services are available.

He compared the hamlet of Rensselaerville in its rural setting to the village of Altamont in the suburban town of Guilderland.

“In the town of Guilderland, you have a great deal of commercial property that offsets it so these assessments are not as severe because your tax rates are lower because of the fact that you have so much commercial property,” Welsh said. 

The town of Rensselaerville, he said, has almost no commercial property. 

“You don’t even have a gas station, and there’s only one or two stores and that’s about it.  And a couple of restaurants.  Otherwise, you have nothing,” said Welsh.  “Property owners are the people who hold the burden of these tax rolls.” 

Hesch said there are two sides to taxes. 

“If,” he said, “the whole town’s assessments go up at level — everybody just goes up a certain percentage — and the tax levy stays the same, then everyone’s taxes will be the same.” 

  But, if some are relatively under-assessed and some are over-assessed and everyone is brought up to the same level of market value by a reassessment, said Hesch, there are going to be some people who see their taxes go up because their values then are greater. 

“Some people’s taxes are going to go down, because, relative to where everyone else is now — they were relatively overassessed before — their chunk of the levy pie is going to be smaller now [because] everyone else’s values have gone up,” he said. 

In a case where a town reassesses and doesn’t raise its tax levy — the taxes to be raised from property owners — some people may see their tax burden go down, he said.

“It’s very flexible in relation to how values change from year to year,” said Hesch.  “There could be different markets…within a small town because of location and just the way markets are at a certain section of town in relation to another part of town.” 

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