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Property revaluations stir concerns

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Property owners in three of the four St. Lawrence County towns that conducted revaluations this year raised a lot of questions but not the kind of widespread protest so far that Potsdam has experienced.

Increases in land values led the reason for higher assessments in the towns of DeKalb, Hermon and Lawrence.

“I fully understand the concerns,” said Larry D. Denesha, supervisor in the town of DeKalb. “I have personally only heard from half a dozen people. But if you talk to the assessor, he’s been swamped. I’m certain we’ll work through it.”

In Potsdam, the Town Council got an earful from people complaining that assessments on their residential properties have increased excessively.

Revaluations are done to align assessments with market values. The emphasis in the towns of DeKalb, Hermon and Lawrence focused on matching escalating sale prices for land to assessments.

“We don’t have a lot of current sales. I had to go back to 2009 to get some numbers,” Lawrence assessor David G. Burl said. “It was all in land. We’ve got a large Amish community and they’re willing to pay for it.”

In addition, the town has at least one large farmer who pays top dollar for agricultural acreage, Mr. Burl said.

He is nearly through the informal hearings he scheduled to explain the increases to property owners.

“I’ve had a full slate,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to have many before the grievance board.”

Most people have simply wanted an explanation of why their assessments went up, especially when they have made no improvements, DeKalb assessor C. Bruce Green said.

“New York state says land is off,” meaning assessments and sale prices do not match, he said. “That’s the thing we have to adjust if we want to get to 100 percent.”

DeKalb has a number of small farms of 100 to 200 acres.

“They’re selling now,” Mr. Green said.

He is still conducting hearings and expects to make some changes by the end of the month.

The price of land also has risen in Hermon, assessor Tom L. Hall said.

“As assessors, we kind of knew the land values were going up and up and up,” Mr. Hall said. “Everybody thought it was people from out of the area. It wasn’t. It was about 50-50.”

In this year’s revaluation for Hermon, Mr. Hall did not set any of the values because of what happened with the 2008 roll.

Based on a lawsuit filed by about 40 property owners on Trout Lake, a state Supreme Court judge threw out the 2008 values and ordered a reassessment.

“I’m not doing any more revals,” Mr. Hall said. “I kept completely out of it.”

The town hired Christopher B.T. Coffin, who did not find a big shift in values on Trout Lake, but he found that sales showed land was gaining in what people were paying. Farmers typically know the value of their acreage and are protected by agricultural exemptions. More explanations have been necessary for property owners who bought land for recreational purposes, such as hunting, and were not anticipating increases, Mr. Coffin said.

Mr. Coffin said he answered questions from property owners representing about 10 percent of the roll.

“A lot were genuinely asking for information, how to read the notice,” he said. “Others were coming in because they genuinely disagreed with the assessment. I often make adjustments when people come in because they often make a case.”

Property owners generally equate increases in assessment with paying more in taxes, but that is not necessarily the case. Overall, taxes rise and fall based on the levy determined by the budget. If everyone’s assessment rose at the same rate, they would continue to pay the same percentage of the levy.

Property owners who think their assessments are off may use two public computers at the county Real Property Office, 48 Court St., Canton, to compare values and sales, Director Darren W. Colton said.

“We have all the inventory data. I encourage people to use it. We supply the data they need,” he said. “If it’s not right, it should get fixed.”

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