March 1, 2012 —
It is my understanding that Marguerite Brown has been Bethel’s tax assessor for over 30 years—a position that has not been questioned even though, as Josh Teitelbaum notes in his February 7 letter, there have been an inordinate amount of successful challenges to Ms. Brown’s assessments. It looks like this may change, however, and here’s why: Ms. Brown’s assessments incur unnecessary litigation costs to the town and residents are finally realizing it.
When I read the TRR article “Tax consultant slams Bethel assessor; charges bias against weekenders, Jewish property owners,” I was skeptical. Then I did some research, and it does seem that weekenders get slammed, but that’s not to say that others don’t. How is it that combined total taxes on my five-bedroom home with two bedrooms in the basement on 17 acres on an unglamorous road, a pond and no garage are about 30% more than on the Brown property, with 198 acres, magnificent views, a barn, various outbuildings as well as a home with five bedrooms, all above grade, and an attached garage? And what about the local resident down the road from me who pays just 30% less than the Browns for a very modest home on 2.5 acres? All one has to do is peruse www.tax  lookup.net to see that something is amiss.
I bought my home in 1999 before www.taxlookup.com  existed. I wish I knew then what I know now. The taxes on my home have more than doubled since purchasing it and went up 35% upon purchase. Before closing on the property, the previous owners said they were furious when they learned that Ms. Brown had gone onto their property, looking through windows for upgrades. When I asked Ms. Brown why my taxes went up, she said there were improvements made to the home that were never assessed. I unsuccessfully tried to verify this; what I did learn is that taxes cannot be raised based on sales price.
I regret not buying the first home I saw in Livingston Manor, which I lost to a higher bidder. Prior to placing a bid I called the town’s assessor, who advised me that taxes would not increase—she wanted to encourage people to buy, not frighten them away with the prospect of tax increases (in spite of upgrades). Ms. Brown can learn a thing or two from the Manor’s tax assessor.
People in public office should be an asset to their town, not a liability. Ms. Brown has always been kind and cordial to me on the phone and I thank her for that. But we need to encourage people to move to Bethel and the best way to do that is to investigate Ms. Brown’s assessments.
[Terry Wolf is a resident of Swan Lake and NYC, NY.]