PORT HENRY - Property assessments have increased in Moriah, leaving some residents concerned about the future.
About 50 people came to the March 10 town board meeting to express dismay at the increases, which average 11.5 percent.
"These assessments are based on comparables 1-2 years old, a lot has changed," said Walt Rushby, a former town supervisor, alluding to present economic conditions. "Our assessors should use common sense based on present conditions."
Ed Scollon questioned the fairness of the process, claiming his assessment jumped 75 percent.
"It's going to keep people from moving to the area," he said. "I love this area, but I may not be able to afford it."
Other residents expressed concerns that higher assessments will mean higher taxes. Some asked the town board to take action.
That's not possible, said Supervi or Tom Scozzafava, who pointed out Moriah's assessors are elected by the voters and are independent of the town board.
"The town board has absolutely no say over assessments," he said, pointing out every town board member's assessment has also increased. "That's the law."
To answer criticism of the increased assessments, Scozzafava scheduled a special meeting Wednesday, March 25, at 6 p.m. at the Port Henry Knights of Columbus. He said local assessors as well as representatives of county and state real property tax offices will attend.
Paul Mazzotte, chairman of the Moriah board of assessors, said the assessment hike was needed to meet state requirements that each community be assessed at full market value.
Moriah was assessed a 88.5 percent of market value, according to the state, Mazzotte said.
Although the assessment increase averages 11.5 percent, it varies from property to property, the assessor explained. It wouldn't be fair to simply raise everyone's assessment without regard to improvements and new construction, he said.
All 3,000 parcels in the town were assessed, Mazzotte said. The revaluation brought Moriah's total assessed value from $270 million to $302 million, he said.
Responding to the criticism, Mazzotte said statistics don't support the concerns of many residents.
"People say the economy is bad, that home prices are down," he said. "Local (property) sales don't reflect that."
He also disputed the notion that higher assessments lead to higher taxes. In fact, he said, if local government holds the line on spending people with an 11 percent assessment increase will see a slight tax decrease in 2009.
Scozzafava acknowledged assessments don't raise taxes.
As an example, he told residents of his own assessment, which has increased from $72,300 in 2003 to $90,400 in 2009. In that same period, his town and county taxes decreased by about $20 a year.
Bruno Mazzotte, the assessor's brother, questioned the need to maintain 100 percent assessment.
He pointed out state statistics showing only 466 of 1,597 municipalities in New York are at full market value assessment. He said he's unaware of anyone asking to have their assessment raised.
Paul Mazzotte said failing to keep the local assessment roll current will cost taxpayers in the long run as the state lowers exceptions, such as the STAR program.
Mazzotte urged people with concerns to call the assessors office at 546-3098.
"If you feel you're over-assessed and can prove you're over-assessed, we'll change it," he said.