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DeKalb residents want revaluation tossed

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DEKALB JUNCTION — More than two dozen DeKalb property owners asked the Town Council on Wednesday to scrap this year’s revaluation and revert to last year’s roll because of widespread unhappiness over leaping land values.

The town board is still weighing whether to ask Assessor C. Bruce Green to reject the roll he prepared for this year, but some council members said they also were stunned by some of the increases. The final decision rests with the assessor, subject to challenges to the town Board of Assessment Review and, failing there, state Supreme Court.

“At this point, we have not made a decision. We’re going to do whatever the right thing is,” Supervisor Larry D. Denesha said. “We didn’t realize it was going to be so drastic. It was certainly sticker shock. This board does not want to put anyone off their property.”

Residents turned in petitions signed by 19 Amish property owners and 50 others asking for rejection of Mr. Green’s revaluation and substituting it with the 2012 roll plus an across-the-board increase of 5 percent on buildings and up to 10 percent on land. Other petitions still are circulating.

“You decide what is actually needed within these limits,” said Kenneth Masters, a fourth-generation owner of his family farm. “Almost everyone agrees with what we’re asking.”

Reaction to the revaluation started off more muted than the widespread opposition that was seen in Potsdam this year, but became more organized as time went on and property owners started comparing notes. Mr. Green, who was not at the meeting, said earlier the biggest changes were in land values.

But property owners said the values Mr. Green set were widely disparate, even among groups of modular houses near each other that had approximately the same amount of land.

Dan Stone said Mr. Green nearly doubled the assessment on 34 acres he owns on a seasonal road that has no utilities.

“It’s a place even the rabbits don’t want to hang out,” Mr. Stone said. “I don’t think he knows where it is.”

Other complained that Mr. Green assessed their older homes as if they were newly built.

“There’s not any equity,” Lila M. Youngs said. “It’s not fair.”

Residents of Vermont and Massachusetts are finding north country land prices to their liking, but that should not be used to drive longtime residents away, said Constance J. Elen, a former town supervisor.

“I think it’s too much of a bite,” she said. “Let us be reasonable, not to raise taxes an exorbitant amount because New York state wants it.”

While some land in the town has sold for more than expected, the entire populace should not suffer, James A. O’Neill said.

“Just because someone is foolish enough to pay twice what something is worth doesn’t make everything in town worth that much,” he said.

Precedent exists for rejection of an entire roll. The Lisbon Town Council persuaded Mr. Green in 2009 to substitute the 2008 roll instead of his revaluation after massive complaints. That same year, Macomb Assessor Christopher B.T. Coffin tossed aside his efforts and used a 2008 roll with a 10 percent increase under pressure from that town board.

The 2012 roll for DeKalb could be substituted by Mr. Green as long as he has not signed the 2013 roll, town attorney Charles B. Nash said. Last year, Mr. Green signed the roll June 5.

Mr. Green’s six-year term as assessor is up this year, and residents urged the board to look elsewhere, but council member John M. Frary said Mr. Green tried to do a competent job.

“His predictions are based on sales. He didn’t stay up at night trying to goof people up,” Mr. Frary said. “He made some mistakes.”

Every revaluation is an upheaval, and returning to the 2012 roll, even with an across-the-board increase, might not solve inequities down the road, Mr. Frary said.

“It’s just who ends up paying their share,” he said. “One way or the other, it’s just not going to end here. Land prices went up double and we didn’t expect that. I see everyone coming back here no matter what we do.”

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