Exploring Hudson’s Reassessment Mess

UPDATE: After a Common Council meeting at 5 p.m. today that included yelling, gavel-banging, and a violent confrontation between a common council member and a citizen, Hudson has passed another resolution concerning the reevaluation. Read about it here.

Hudson’s property reassessments, which will influence how much individual property owners will pay in taxes in the coming years, is not going smoothly.

An anxious citizenry — some who saw their home’s assessed values quadruple in the reassessment’s preliminary stage — have inundated their city representatives with panicked emails and calls. A petition alleging incompetence on the part of the firm doing the reassessments gathered more than 90 signatures of residents demanding the assessments be withdrawn, and for limits on assessment increases.

An anonymously authored resolution seeking to break the contract with the firm hired to reassess the properties was introduced in the city’s Common Council last week, and passed the same night despite concerns from several members.

That resolution was vetoed by Mayor Rick Rector Friday.

Property owners are concerned because the new assessed values of their homes decide what portion of local taxes they will have to pay. The assessed values do not decide how much tax is collected from the city — this is set by the city and county government and the school district — but a homeowner whose abode’s assessment rose more than most in the city can expect to take on a larger slice of local taxes.

This is Hudson’s first assessment since 2012, which was also performed by GAR Associates, the firm currently contracted by the city to work with Hudson Assessor Justin Maxwell to reassess the municipality’s residential and commercial properties.

The current reassessment started when GAR signed a $140,000 contract with the city during Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton’s tenure. The reassessment was supposed to come out in 2018, but was delayed for a year when then-Hudson Assessor Cheryl Kaszluga left her position, which was then filled by Maxwell.

The current reassessments are in their preliminary phase and will not be finalized until July 1. Before then, there will be a second set of draft assessments — the “tentative roll” — and a second “grievance” process, where reassessments can be challenged.

New York does not require reassessments but suggests they should be completed at least every four years. Twelve of Columbia County’s 19 municipalities have undergone reassessments since 2016, according to the New York State Department of and Finance.

Hudson has gone through a “huge change” since the last reassessment, Hudson Mayor Rick Rector said.

“Real estate prices have doubled, quadrupled, and recognizing the fact that we have not done a reassessment for so long, I was most anxious as a citizen to see it happen, because I knew at some point there was going to be a tough pill to swallow,” he said.

An influx of downstate and media interest during the last 20 years has created a drastic spike in Hudson’s real estate market. Rental prices are estimated to more than tripled since 2000.

Though nearly all Hudson properties were given higher values during the preliminary phase of the reassessment process, this does not mean these properties will pay higher taxes.

For instance, though a home on Cross Street (see image) saw its preliminary assessment rise from $204,000 to nearly $296,000 — an increase of 45 percent — its tax liability was predicted to decrease by 21 percent.

This is because the values of most properties in the city rose more than 45 percent, so the Cross Street home’s value dropped relative to the average Hudson property. In other words, since the city seeks to collect a set amount of money in property taxes, instead of a percentage of what all the properties are worth, the city’s properties becoming more expensive as a whole do not affect how much city residents have to pay as a whole.

Hypothetically, if city taxes stayed exactly the same as last year, exactly half of homeowners would pay more in taxes, and exactly half would pay less.

Tax levy rates will not be decided until later this year.

Many properties in Hudson rose far more than 45 percent, and will have to pay higher taxes last year.

During the meeting where the Common Council sought to break the contract with GAR, the audience and common council members spoke of properties which saw their estimated tax liabilities double or triple.

Many in the audience argued the new property values made no sense.

The reassessment process began when GAR was hired in April 2017, according to Common Council minutes.

The first step was to verify the basics of each property, such as the number of bathrooms, according to GAR Vice President David Barnett.

GAR verified the basics of commercial properties, while the Hudson Assessor — Kaszluga in the beginning of the process, then Maxwell — handled the residential properties, he added.

The reassessment was a “mass appraisal,” and GAR looked at all recent property sales in the city, Barnett said.

For the preliminary assessments, the city’s properties were first split up into neighborhoods, then properties were matched with similar, recently sold properties, prioritizing those within its own neighborhood. Aggregated sale prices of these similar properties were then used to calculate the assessed value of the properties, according to Barnett.

GAR compiled and publicly released a list of four “comparables” for each property in Hudson — properties which were sold recently and whose sale prices were used to calculate the values of the property being assessed — after the city paid $3,500 for the list, as it was not part of the original contract.

Barnett was quick to stress the assessed values were not only based on these four comparables.

“We were asked to put out four (comparables), but we’re analyzing every valid sale,” he said.

Current City Assessor Justin Maxwell, now collaborating with GAR on the reassessments, used to work for GAR, Barnett confirmed.

Maxwell was not a full-time employee, but instead was contracted with the company, mostly doing data collection, Barnett added.

GAR had done Hudson’s 2012 reassessment and started its current reassessment before Maxwell was hired by the city.

Maxwell declined comment for this article.

On Tuesday, April 16, the Hudson Common Council voted in favor of a resolution requesting the mayor throw out the GAR contract.

“Many taxpayers have complained of inaccurate inventory and other data, unsupportable land assessments in a particular neighborhood” and other “significant errors and omissions in information…which cannot be resolved through individual property grievances at the Board of Assessment review,” according to the resolution.

The contract should be torn up for GAR’s negligence and failure to uphold professional standards, according to the resolution, which seeks restitution for city funds spent on the project, and states any opinions or recommendations given by GAR should be rejected.

Three of the ten regular Common Council members — Rob Bujan, Eileen Halloran and Dominick Merante — abstained from the vote, citing concerns about a lack of information, the legality of the resolution, and the rapidity with which is was put up for a vote. The seven other regular members voted for the resolution, and Common Council President Tom DePietro, who normally votes only to break a tie, took the unusual step of casting an ‘Aye.’

Nicole Vidor, the proprietor of Hudson-based Nicole Vidor Real Estate Inc., voiced concerns about the reassessment at the meeting before the council voted.

Comparables used to assess the values of properties were often wildly different structures than the properties they were being compared to, making them illegitimate, she said in a later interview.

Additionally, when Vidor’s real estate agency needs to set the market value of a house for a sale, they only look at comparables from the last year to ensure an accurate measure of the market, she said, adding this method was generally used in the real estate business.

Many of the comparables used in the reassessment are from 2017 or 2016, according to the public list. At least eight properties being reassessed have comparables dating from 2009.

Less-affluent property owners will disproportionately suffer from unfair assessments, Vidor said, “because they will not have money to hire an attorney…the grievance process is a very in-depth process…you have to come with an awful lot of information.”

“It’s up to the city to create some kind of support in terms of grievance for the less-fortunate in the community, because it’s just not fair,” she added.

Hudson Mayor Rick Rector

Mayor Rector vetoed the Common Council resolution Friday, citing the anonymity of the resolution’s authors, a last-minute alteration in the text not being reviewed by the legal committee, a lack of time to investigate the allegations of incompetence, and the failure of the resolution to cite examples of this incompetence, according to the veto.

Most prominently, Rector wrote what the resolution seeks to do — throw out the recommendations given by GAR — could not legally be done by either the Common Council or himself.

The power over the reassessment process is “vested solely in the assessor, and a City Council has no authority to substitute its judgment for that of the assessor,” according to a legal opinion by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

The legal opinion cites the New York State Constitution, which also states assessments are solely the purview of the assessor, who has been delegated this power by the state Legislature.

First Ward Alderman Kamal Johnson, who is looking to unseat Rector as Hudson’s mayor, said there was “a lot of fear” about the reassessments, and chastised Rector for how he was dealing with the situation.

“You really have to step out and be a leader and calm the fears of the people and let them know, as a city, we’re standing with the citizens who live here and own homes — he chose to stand against that,” Johnson said.

Rector should have waited until after a special April 24 Common Council meeting concerning the reassessments before making a decision, he added.

Johnson said the reassessment numbers were “all over the place,” and expressed concern about how some residents would fare during the grievance process.

“We have elderly people in my ward who don’t own a computer, who really can’t leave their homes unless they have assistance, and for them to get this information — it’s extremely difficult, let alone to participate in a grievance procedure,” he said.

“There’s a lot of fear,” he added.

Fourth Ward Alderman John Rosenthal called Rector’s veto “a little cute,” saying Rector citing the way the resolution was brought forward as part of the reasoning for the veto did not focus on the resolution’s substance.

There was a “failure of leadership,” but Rosenthal said he didn’t necessarily blame Rector, as the contract with GAR was signed and the reassessment begun before Rector took office.

“He’s new to the process too,” Rosenthal said.

First Ward Alderman Rob Bujan, who is running to unseat Tom DePietro as Common Council president, referred to the state law barring the Common Council or Mayor’s intervention in the reassessment process when describing his reasoning for abstaining.

“That’s due to the fact that New York state does not want there to be political pressure put on the assessor’s jurisdiction,” he said.

Bujan said there was a “rush to judge” in passing the resolution, and the council should have given themselves an additional week to research the issue.

Columbia Street, Hudson

“I felt [withdrawing from the contract] made no sense, because why would you cancel a contract that ended and lose the legal footing…for you to get follow-up information or data requests from your vendor,” he said. “That doesn’t make business sense to me.”

Bujan said he knew people were “incredibly stressed and overwhelmed by all of this,” and emphasized anyone who felt their property was not assessed properly should get information to challenge it through the time-tested grievance process.

“Putting all of this smoke in the air,” Bujan said, “it’s a disservice to everybody involved.”

GAR Vice-President David Barnett said the way his company undertook Hudson’s reassessments was “not atypical,” and said the reassessment and grievance processes had been proven to work through the years.

“We feel like we’ve followed the necessary requirements, we feel like we have values that are substantiated and supported and fair and equitable…and I think a large majority of the property owners in the city of Hudson would agree with that statement,” he said.

The “tentative roll” is to be released May 1, after which residents who question their assessments are encouraged to prepare themselves for “grievance day” May 28 (the informal grievance period ended at the end of March).

Grievances will be heard by the Board of Assessment Review, made up of Hudson citizens.

Rector said it was “extremely important the city take politics out of this.”

Though he has not seen “a glittering problem currently with this assessment,” Rector said he doesn’t doubt there are some inaccuracies, as there always are in large projects.

“That’s what I’m trying to stress,” he said, “I think we should let this thing go through the proper process, and let it go through the stages, and if we find that something’s glaringly bad or incorrect, then we can make some decision… if there’s some numbers that weren’t done correctly, that’s why we have these steps.”

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