The issue of an amended payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement for the Birches at Saugerties housing complex has become the focus a Town Board discussion again.Perhaps both, Bruce? And I'd throw-in ignorance. And isn't it noteworthy that every time we see this kind of political theater, the road leads directly through the Bernardo/Independence Party camp?
During a board meeting Wednesday, Councilman Bruce Leighton read a prepared statement that touched on Supervisor Kelly Myers’ refusal to sign the amended payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreement even though it had been approved in a 4-1 vote of the board. Myers cast the lone “no” vote.
In his statement, Leighton said Myers, during a meeting on Sept. 12, should have discussed her concerns with the board from her seat rather than addressing council members from the podium generally used by the public.
“I personally don’t need to be lectured to,” Leighton said, adding that he didn’t know if Myers’ actions were political grandstanding or arrogance.
And there are a number of commenters over at the Freeman who are simply too ignorant for words. Birchez filed an Article 7 with the town because a wee event occurred that undermined the U.S. real estate market. Let me see if I can remember what it was. Of yeah! The freakin' housing market collapsed.
As a result of this collapse, property owners have been left with assessments that do not reflect the actual current value of the property. If you buy a house for $200,000 you pay property taxes based upon that (or something close to that) assessment. If the market collapses and your home loses a big chunk of its value, for argument's sake let's say down to $100,000, you're still paying taxes at the original rate -- despite the fact that your home is worth half of what it was when you bought it.
So, what to do? Well, there is a provision in NY State municipal law that allows property owners to challenge their assessment. This process is known as "assessment review," and towns normally have a board that meets every spring. And towns these days are quite busy with such requests, most of which are resolved through a negotiation process. The vast majority never get to court because both sides sit down and hammer out a compromise (like the aforementioned PILOT). It really stinks for the towns involved, because that tax revenue is essentially lost for good and has to be made up somehow. But it's the system we have in place, like it or not. In addition, assessment review is really a fundamental right. I would never buy a property if I wasn't allowed to challenge my tax assessment in court, would you? The people who are criticizing Birchez over this need to have their heads examined. And if the taxes are so high that the facility is losing money, where will the seniors go if it goes into foreclosure?
But there is a bigger issue at stake here for the residents of the Town of Saugerties. What if the situation were reversed? What if it was Democratic town supervisor refusing to sign a PILOT with a big developer with ties to the GOP? Can you imagine the bloody murder that we would hear? And what if a town supervisor simply decided that he or she didn't like a local law? What then? Does anyone really think it's okay for paid town officials to simply ignore the will of the town board? This is very dangerous territory.
Myers is in over her head, and will end up looking like even more of a fool if she keeps this up. And why do I get the sense that she isn't receiving good legal counsel? I can't imagine town attorney John Greco advising her not to sign the agreement. I wonder where she might have gotten the idea to stage this stunt?
And, as a commenter earlier this year noted in another post about Myers, she is a Bernardo Kool-Aid drinker, so don't expect this to end well. Thankfully, town supervisor is just a two-year term, so Myers can be replaced with someone who understands his or her role in town government.
And I think Birchez should call Myers's bluff and take the Town of Saugerties to court on this assessment. From what the Freeman article says, the company has an excellent case and a good chance of winning an even lower assessment. Then Myers can explain her money-costing actions to the voters of Saugerties.