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Town of Oswegatchie conducts revaluation, upsetting some property owners


OGDENSBURG — Some town of Oswegatchie residents say they will challenge what for some amounts to a 20 percent increase in their property assessments from a recent townwide revaluation.

Elizabeth Halpen, 6019 Route 37, said she and her husband, James R., returned from wintering in South Carolina to find their property assessment had risen from $70,000 to $89,000. She plans to challenge the increase before the town’s Board of Assessment Review on grievance day, May 22.

She said she just hopes she has time to put a case together to bolster her challenge. To do that effectively, she said, she must compare hers with the assessments of properties similar to her two-bedroom, one-bathroom home with a St. Lawrence River view and a one-stall garage.

“We really don’t have a lot of time to do these comparisons. And you have to do this within your area,” she said.

Town Assessor Beverly J. Davis said it had been four years since the last townwide revaluation. In that time, she said, disparity had developed among property values based on actual sales. The town’s equalization, which is based on a complex formula set by the state and represents a measure of how closely assessments reflect actual property values, had dipped from 100 to 88. An equalization of 100 means assessments most closely reflect actual property values.

“The state had really wanted to dip it down to 84 or 86, but they agreed to go with 88 percent and we proceeded with a revaluation,” she said.

If a town dips that far below an equalization of 100, she said, it means that some are paying a disproportionate share of taxes based assessments that are not keeping up with actual property values. Keeping a town at full value with an equalization of 100 means every property owner pays their fair share, she said.

“Every parcel is checked and reviewed, and it does away with a lot of that disparity,” Ms. Davis said. “Some people’s property may have decreased in value and others may have increased. That’s especially true if somebody’s value hasn’t been reviewed in three to five years.”

Mrs. Halpen’s husband can buy that argument. He says he is not as upset as his wife with their higher property assessment.

“It’s a figure that upsets me, but then I ask, what would I sell the property for? Is it above or below the assessment? Most times it’s above,” Mr. Halpen said. “People have to look at their assessment and compare it to what price tag they have in their mind on their property and go from there.”

Other residents did a double-take when they got their letters from the assessor’s office earlier this month.

The assessment on Angela M. Rufa’s home at 7860 Route 68 galloped from $207,500 in 2011 to $275,000 this year.

“This is not my first reval,” she said Friday, adding that she has been raised “several times in the past” and has attended the grievance days.

“But in my memory this is the most widespread revaluation that has been done since I moved into my house,” Ms. Rufa said. “In years past I have felt like some waterfront properties were targeted and their assessments alone were increased, but that is not the case this year.”

Ms. Rufa added the while some town residents will likely be successful in their assessment challenges, “with an assessment increase of close to $70,000, I don’t think it will be me.”

She plans to be at Town Hall on May 22.

“I’m going to have to fight this,” Ms. Rufa said.

Timothy J. and Shannon E. Baker saw increases in both their primary home at 5722 Route 812 - $80,000 to $95,000 - and their summer residence at 27 Fell Farm Road - $110,000 to $124,000.

Mr. Baker understands the process, yet he has questions.

“My question more relates to how the base is established,” he said Friday. “Is it on some comparative sales or some formula?”

Mr. Baker added that he has no problem with the town at 100 percent.

“The 100 percent needs to be uniform across the entire township and be representative of what property values are based on current values and current economic conditions,” he said.

Yet Ms. Rufa is more worried for others than assured for herself.

“I have a great concern for the people that have old family camps and retired people on a fixed income, like my mother,” she said. “Some of these people are having a difficult time holding on to their properties. A tax increase will be devastating to them. We can’t continue to raise taxes on the properties. The tax burden is too great and it is driving people to leave he area.”

According to the assessor’s office, there are 1,608 residential parcels in the town, 187 agricultural, 108 commercial and 513 vacant.

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