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Fending off tax certiorari; Ya gotta spend money to save money

By Fritz Mayer
October 16, 2013

There are a number of property owners in Sullivan County who think that their tax assessments are higher than they should be and therefore they are paying more than their fair share of property taxes. Among those are the owners of Kohls Distribution Center in Wurtsboro; Walmart and Kutshers Resort in the Town of Thompson; and Eagle Creek Companies, which owns the system of reservoirs in Bethel, Lumberland and Forestburgh.

Some of the reductions being sought by the property owners are significant, and, in fact, if all of the reductions in tax assessments being sought this year were granted—and they are many—the tax assessment of the county would be reduced by $70 million.

The assessed values of all properties are set by the town assessors, and it is the towns that are charged with defending an assessment when challenged by a certiorari, or a request for judicial review. But the towns don’t always have the resources they would like to defend a challenge as well as they might like, and thus a couple of the towns have welcomed an offer by the county to become involved.

But that involvement will cost some money, and in a time when legislators are not seeing light at the end of the recession-created tunnel, getting them to agree to pay for anything not planned for these days is more difficult than it might be.

At a meeting at the government center on October 10, county treasurer Ira Cohen and county attorney Sam Yasgur asked the legislature for the authority to spend enough money to get appraisals for three or four of the larger assessment-challenged properties.

Cohen said, “Sometimes the towns are deficient because they try to defend or settle litigation without even spending money to get an appraisal. We want to spend money to pay for a retainer for an appraiser so we have a better idea if a case should be settled, and if so, for how much; or if they should be litigated, and if so what are the chances for success.”

Yasgur warned lawmakers that there was not a line item in the 2013 budget to support the request, and there would be no money returning to the county even if the cases were successful, but any cases that were successful would prevent the county tax base from being decreased.

Yasgur pointed out that towns received roughly 22% of property tax revenues, the county receives another 22% and school districts receive roughly 56%. He said, “What we would ultimately like to see is that when there is a significant tax cert, which we believe can properly be defended, that all three jurisdictions participate.”