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More than 100 come before grievance-day board in Potsdam

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POTSDAM — Scores of discontented property owners visited the town hall Tuesday in a final attempt to lower their assessments.

They clutched manila folders filled with photos of their properties and records of comparable sales, ready to make their cases before the Board of Assessment Review, an appointed five-member board responsible for hearing all assessment grievances.

Most were in for a long wait. It took the board three hours to hear the first 21 complaints, and dozens more people were waiting when members returned from lunch.

The Board of Assessment Review usually meets only for a single day, but the board agreed to continue meetings into today as the number of property owners continued to grow. Anybody who signed up would be heard, no matter how long it took, said longtime Board of Assessment Review member K. William Grant.

Although the board holds a grievance day every year, a townwide revaluation prompted a flood of property owners looking to change their assessments.

Last year, only 14 people came before the board on grievance day, Mr. Grant said. On Tuesday, more than 60 people signed up before the first break at 1 p.m., with more lining up all the time.

The last time the board met with this many people was in 2008, the year of the last townwide revaluation.

Some chose not to meet with the board in person, instead submitting their arguments and evidence in writing.

The board heard the evidence from property owners who wanted to explain why they felt their assessments were too high. Assessor James P. Snyder also was on hand to discuss why he set assessments the way he did.

The board did not make any decisions Tuesday, nor did it offer any opinions. It will meet again soon to discuss each case.

“We don’t have to comment. To them, we don’t comment on what we think,” Mr. Grant said.

This is done to allow the board members to process all of the information before them, but it also helps them to avoid the outrage that has been directed toward the Town Council and the assessor by angry taxpayers in recent months.

“It’s not a good idea to get angry at us beforehand,” Mr. Grant said.

Johanne M. Sullivan came to the board to contest the assessments on seven properties, most of which are rented out, some owned by her and her husband and others owned by her mother.

She said she was not optimistic about her efforts, having seen many of her property assessments jump in the revaluation.

“It seems they want to punish landlords,” she said.

Mr. Snyder met with some property owners to informally discuss their property values, but he said he did not have time to meet with everybody who wanted to.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see everybody who had an issue or a discrepancy,” he said.

Overall, the assessment went as well as could be expected, he said, but it has been difficult for everyone involved.

“I don’t think any of us are dreaming of going through this again,” Mr. Snyder said.

The Town of Potsdam Taxpayer’s Association is circulating a petition to scrap the entire assessment and revert to 2012 numbers.

The tax roll is filled with “inequities, inconsistencies and excessive levels of adjusted assessment,” according to the petition.

The Board of Assessment Review will issue its final decisions soon. The last resort for disgruntled taxpayers is taking the town to court to contest an assessment.

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