Carlton will freeze assessments at 2012 levels

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 April 2013 at 12:00 am

Town Board may bring in outside firm for reassessments

Photos by Tom Rivers – Michael Risman, an attorney with Hodgson Russ, meets with about 150 Carlton town residents tonight at the Fire Department Recreation Hall. Risman advised the Town Board to freeze the assessments at 2012 levels and bring in an outside firm for re-evaluations.

CARLTON – The Town Board voted tonight to freeze property assessments at 2012 levels, a move that will give the town about a year to have 2,400 properties re-evaluated.

The board may hire a professional appraisal firm to establish values for all the properties in Carlton, services that would cost between $50,000 to $100,000 – “closer to $100,000, in my opinion,” said Michael Risman, an attorney with Hodgson Russ. If the tally is $100,000 that would be an average of about $40 per property.

Risman addressed about 150 people at the Carlton Fire Company Recreation Hall. The meeting had to be moved from Town Hall because of the big crowd.

Many residents have been angry since they received their mail with their new assessments in recent weeks. Many residents said their assessed values went up 20 percent or more.

Betty Sue Miller’s property increased in value 52 percent, according to her 2013 assessment.

“Most of us want to know how we got here with 20, 30 percent increases,” she said at the meeting. “How do we in three years go up 52 percent?”

Carlton resident Woody Baker, standing, was among the residents with questions for Michael Risman, a Buffalo attorney.

Residents first expressed their anger to town officials during last Tuesday’s board meeting. The five Town Board members were unanimous in voting tonight to freeze assessments to 2012 levels. Town Assessor Karen Adams said she supported the decision and would certify the tentative rolls for 2013 at the 2012 numbers.

The tentative rolls need to be filed by May 1. Town Councilman Robin Lake said the board’s decision will give the town time to determine how it will seek to bring accurate and fair assessments to all properties – in 2014.

All towns in Orleans County do town-wide reassessments every three years, with updates annually. Residents challenged many of their assessments in 2010, with 188 going to formal grievances, by far the most in the county.

Risman urged the board to hire a professional appraisal firm that would meet often with residents in public meetings and explain the rationale for determining their assessments.

“You’ll have a process going forward that will work,” he said.

And residents who faced the prospect of bigger tax bills due to assessment hikes can have peace of mind that the increases won’t take effect this year.

Resident Peg Wiley said the town’s current data inventories of properties don’t include some accessory buildings and recent improvements.

“Hopefully we can get a real and good look at what is there,” she said.

Risman said a professional firm would first do data inventories, and they look at real estate sale prices of neighboring properties and each individual site’s sales history.

Carlton has a lot of lakefront along Lake Ontario, Lake Alice and Oak Orchard Creek. The town is rural and there aren’t a lot of property sales to provide “comparables” for sale prices, Risman said.

Unlike suburban towns, where there are blocks and blocks of similar-style houses, the properties fluctuate in size and styles on the same roads in Carlton, Risman noted.

“Carlton is a rather unique town,” he said. “There are different types of agricultural and residential property. It’s not a simple matter of evaluating all of these properties.”

Risman said Carlton isn’t alone in seeing an uproar from residents following a reassessment. Many towns will experience spikes in assessments when a long-time assessor retires and a new one takes over. In Carlton, Leo Spohr retired in 2007. Karen Adams has been on the job since then.

The state Office of Real Property Services used to have a much larger staff with appraisers that could help new assessors, but Risman said the state staff has been drastically reduced in recent years.