Citing Assessment Woes

Southampton Town
Southampton Town Board members voted unanimously to freeze assessments for two years and approve a committee to research full valuation’s effects, especially on those with fixed incomes.

Yolanda Field saw her assessment increase $431,800 over three years. While the Sag Harbor Village resident has not done a thing to her home over that span, her taxes continue to rise while her Social Security income remains unchanged.

“There’s nothing extra coming in except these bills,” Field said. “My question is why do we get charged for things that neighbors do? Next door to me, a lady bought a house, paid about $1.3 million. She must have put at least another million into it, put a 34×34 extension on it, beautiful, but my property values go up? My house needs painting. My deck needs replacing. My driveway needs fixing. I can’t do it. I have to keep up with these bills.”

She’s just one of the many Southampton Town residents on fixed incomes, mainly senior citizens, who say they are negatively affected by the town’s full-value assessments.

While the town board passed a resolution to freeze reassessments for a two-year span while a committee reviews how the current market trend analysis affects residents and school districts’ state aid, among other factors, residents like Field and Southampton Village resident Mackie Finnerty stressed at a May 14 Southampton Town Board meeting other issues that need to be looked at to ensure fair assessments moving forward.

“There’s an enormous number of houses not being sold,” said Finnerty, who, like Field, pays additional taxes for living in the village. “When you talk about the value of your house, it’s only ever worth what a willing buyer has. It’s nice for one assessor in the town to sit there and say, ‘Oh, your house is worth this,’ but when you haven’t sold your house in a couple of years, it’s not worth that. It’s the imagination of the town that it’s worth that. So, I’m really confused by this system.”

North Haven resident Michael Daly said the town’s system shows what transparency can cost.

“It’s ironic that lots of people, when they ask for a price of what their house is worth, while it’s too much as an assessment, it’s not enough to sell their house. It’s a double-edged sword,” said Daly, a Douglas Elliman real estate agent. He said he has a buyer who is looking in Mastic and Shirley, unable to afford to live in Southampton. But a $250,000 house in Mastic comes with $13,000 in annual taxes.

“We’re really fortunate that we in Southampton and most of the East End communities have a significantly lower tax burden, but any increase in it for people on fixed incomes — and that’s most of our seniors — is too much,” Daly said. “The wealthy should carry the burden.”

Hampton Bays resident Charles McArdle, who’s a Republican candidate for town board, echoed Finnerty, saying assessments are nowhere near the selling value. He said he’s heard of other municipalities imposing vista taxes for ocean or mountain views. He said he also has a problem with limited liability corporations being able to buy a house and have the ability to write it off. He said he believed they too should be taxed higher.

Finnerty said that she and her husband are just getting by. “If one of us dies, the other one has to move,” she said. “That’s no situation to live in.”

Field asked where the town will be in two years’ time.

“What happens after the two-year freeze? We get hit with a sledgehammer?” she asked.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman threw out other ideas like staying close to full value but with limitations, like a maximum two-percent increase year over year so there aren’t 40 to 50-percent jumps. Southampton could also abandon the market trend valuation. Schneiderman said there may even be a way to not have the homes of senior citizens linked to the market trend valuations until their home is sold. Then, the property value would be adjusted to fair market for the new owner.

“We have to make sure it’s something we can legally do, but that may be a possible solution,” he said. “We’re going to try to find a fix. A permanent fix.”

Ray D’Angelo, the chairman of the Hampton Bays Citizens Advisory Committee, agreed something has to be done to aid seniors.

“It’s not reasonable to expect any mass approach in reassessment to result in a fair and equitable property assessment,” said D’Angelo, who added he’s frequented the Hampton Bays Senior Center and heard his fair share of horror stories from residents there. “Many of the seniors have been victimized by this system, and we already have a very high tax rate in Hampton Bays. This is a big, big number for these people. They’ve been really upset by this. They’re being thrown out of their houses through taxation.”

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