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Dozens protest Potsdam reassessment

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POTSDAM — Scores of irate property owners packed the town hall Tuesday to protest the reassessment notifications they received over the weekend.

Residential property assessment values are set to go up an average of 13 percent in the first town-wide reevaluation in five years, according to town Assessor James P. Snyder, but most of those at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting complained of much higher hikes.

The crowd of about 100 was noisy as the meeting began. Some called for the resignation of Mr. Snyder, to scattered applause.

The town board listened to public comments in silence for the most part, answering the occasional question. By the end of the night, however, the board agreed to increase the appointment hours for property owners to meet with Mr. Snyder.

The first recourse for those unhappy with their assessment is to schedule an informal 15-minute meeting with Mr. Snyder. Residents were informed that these meetings would take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., April 15 through 19 and 22 through 26. This drew criticism from some, who said they could not get away from their jobs during work hours.

The board agreed to expand those hours to include evenings and weekends. The expanded schedule will be made available soon.

Most of those who stood up to complain argued that the assessments are too high to fairly reflect the economic reality. The value of a property is supposed to be determined by the amount it could be sold for, but many argued that this is not the case in Potsdam.

“The amount of the assessment had no relation, to my mind, to market value,” said Milner Grimsled, who saw the assessed value of his property jump from $96,000 to $120,000.

“If anyone wants to buy my home for $120,000, meet me afterwards, cut me a check,” he said.

Mr. Snyder said he knows he is not infallible, but said he is confident in his assessments and in the knowledge that any mistakes will be corrected soon. The majority of assessments, he said, accurately reflect property value despite the complaints.

“A lot of people didn’t mention what they are trying to sell their property for,” he said.

Assessed value is not directly related to taxes. The value is set by the assessor alone, regardless of the budgetary needs of any municipality. A rising assessment does not necessarily mean higher taxes, depending on the spending set by municipalities.

However, many at the meeting feared that the town, county and school districts would take advantage of the reassessment by increasing spending, to take the bigger tax base into account.

“I don’t know how retired people can live and have a home in this area with taxes going up the way they are,” said Walter Theobald.

Those whose assessment went up by well over the average have the most cause for concern, since they will be responsible for a larger portion of the overall tax levy.

Many said the current situation echoed the last reassessment, in 2008, which was equally unpopular. The assessor at that time was Kim G. Bisonette, who resigned in 2011.

“They say the grass is always greener on the other side,” said Tracey Haggett-Sloan, president of the Town of Potsdam Taxpayers Association. “Kim’s starting to look pretty good right now.”

“Don’t make the same mistakes you made four or five years ago,” Potsdam resident John Burke told the town board.

Mr. Snyder said he understands people’s concerns, but he does not worry too much about the threats to his job.

“Unemployment in St. Lawrence County is 12 percent right now. I’m fortunate enough to have a job nobody else wants, and I don’t think that’s changed after tonight,” he joked.

Potsdam residents will not see the effect of the reassessment on their tax bill until September’s school district tax is due.

The tentative tax roll will be filed on May 1. Mr. Snyder can continue to make changes to the roll as needed until May 28, when unsatisfied property owners can go before the Board of Assessment Review for formal grievance hearings. The roll will be finalized on July 1.

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