From Pelham’s assessor: Ins and outs of property tax assessment and filing grievances

We are all sensitive to the high taxes in Westchester, and it’s very common for property owners to feel they are overtaxed. There’s nothing wrong with being a conscientious taxpayer. It’s beneficial to all.

Many taxpayers don’t fully understand how assessments are calculated. Pelham is one of the towns in Westchester that assesses residential properties at 100% of market value. With this in mind, if you think you are over-assessed then clearly the first thing you should ask yourself is, “Would my property sell at or above the assessed value?” If the answer is yes, then you are not over-assessed.

Accurate assessments are the primary goal of the assessor, and no one knows the property values in a municipality better than the assessor. However, no one knows the particulars of a property better than the owner of that property. Thus, the two people best suited to discuss an assessment are the property owner and the assessor.  So, if you think your assessment is not accurate, then the best course of action is to contact me before May, so I can work with you to correct it (assessments are reduced every year, where appropriate). After you receive your new assessment, if you still feel that your assessment is not accurate, then a grievance can be the next course of action.

Filing a grievance is not difficult, and you don’t need to sign up with someone to represent you. A cottage industry has emerged over the last 20 years where self-professed “tax professionals” solicit property owners, offering to represent them in grievance and small claims court. Without supplying sufficient proof of full-market value, these “reps” claim your property is over assessed and promise to save you thousands of dollars, all at no risk to you. However, there are risks when you file a grievance, especially when contracting with someone who may not be qualified to accurately value your property. It could expose things about the property that were not previously disclosed (or previously known), which could cause the next assessment to be higher, rather than lower, resulting in a higher tax bill. If you decide to hire a representative to file a grievance on your behalf, it is important to look for reviews and get solid referrals from a trusted source. Keep in mind, a review or referral from someone living in another municipality, where assessments are handled differently, may not be helpful to property owners in Pelham.

Does this mean you shouldn’t pursue a grievance if you feel certain that you are over assessed? Of course not. In those cases, by all means, file a grievance. But remember, the two people most capable of discussing your assessment are you and the assessor. So, your best chance at resolving a difference of opinion is to contact my office first, before filing a grievance. As explained earlier, the goal is to assess everyone accurately, not excessively. There is no benefit to the assessor (or to the taxing authorities) to over-assess anyone. If you have any doubts about this, then please also read this article, posted April 19, 2022 here in the Pelham Examiner:  An assessment: property tax myths and misunderstandings.

Pelham reassesses every property, every year and has done so for more than 20 years. Pelham maintains one of the most accurate assessment systems in New York. So accurate, in fact, that the New York State Tax Department rewards the Town of Pelham financially, on a per parcel basis, for maintaining assessments at 100% of market value. This system also helps make Pelham extremely successful in defending its assessments in court. Pelham taxpayers can have complete confidence that I will work hard to protect them from the filing of unwarranted grievance claims, as such claims, if not genuine, can unfairly shift the tax burden onto other taxpayers’ properties.

When it comes to your taxes, please take the time to understand the process and to work with the assessor’s office. Remember, we are all in this together.

These are my personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views or practices of the Town of Pelham. I am not providing tax, accounting or legal advice, and you are advised to consult with an independent professional of your own choosing in the event you have any questions regarding the contents of this article.

Joe Battaglia is assessor for the Town of Pelham.