Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Property Assessments: Mistakes Were Made

... I made a mistake. Yet, somehow, I got the answer right ...

A quick boat club review before we get to the new stuff:

To review, in October, Martin Roby, open government activist, acquired a screen shot from the County Clerk's office and posted it on the Stuyvesant Forum, a Yahoo group devoted to local Stuyvesant issues. Here it is.

What Martin found was that a 31.4 acre parcel was 1) listed as two parcels although no subdivision ever occurred; 2) one listing was listed as a tax exempt State Park although the property is clearly operating as a private entity; 3) there are many houses on the listing for the boat club, ultimately some 25 homes, which have never gotten building permits and were not on the assessment; 4) the property is listed as a woodlot when it is a developed resort. At the end of this article, links are provided to demonstrate these problems.

The boat club has been paying taxes as a woodlot, paying the town of Stuyvesant $500 a year in taxes for many years. The assessment at the time Martin obtained the abstract was $340,000.

However, a Hudson river estate within about 2 hour drive of New York City, an isolated, private estate with a 25 houses, a marina, 31.4 acres and other improvements, surrounded by protected state land on three sides and the Hudson river on the other side, is certainly worth many millions of dollars. The town of Stuyvesant has been leaving up to $70,000 a year on the table, uncollected taxes due to the town if the assessment on this property had been fair.

This assessment was certified in July 2009 by Howard Gleason. He signed off on it following the GAR associates process.

The assessor Howard Gleason has since admitted that this listing was a mistake. Here is the interview he held with Lee Jamison in which he admits his mistake and outlines the steps he plans to take to get a more accurate assessment on this property.

If error is the problem, then we are talking about many interlocking mistakes. The property should not have been listed as a tax exempt state park. The construction of the houses should have involved building permits. The single property should not have two assessment listing. The assessment should have been much higher. The property is not a woodlot.

Did Howard make all these mistakes by himself?

If the multiple problems, consistently presenting a pattern of privilege and advantage are due to random error, Howard Gleason's actions are not logical. Mr. Gleason told Lee Jamison that he appreciates people who help him out pointing out mistakes and allowing him the chance to correct these errors. So far, Martin has not gotten a thank you card. Personally, Mr. Gleason seems to be working to raise my assessment and presented me with papers prior to a public meeting in an attempt to intimidate me so that I would not exercise my constitutional rights.

How does he thank people for finding and publicize these mistakes? By raising their taxes.

But if the problem is a mistake, why is Mr. Gleason, with the aide of Tal Rappleyea, working to so hard to show the original assessment of 340,000 is not entirely absurd? Mr. Gleason's job is to raise money for the town, not to work as the advocate for a single, privileged land owner.

In the Register Star article below, Tal and Howard argue that the value of the entire property, 25 houses, marina, pavillion and 31 acres, is only to be taxed at the marina rate. When speaking to Lee, Howard came up with comparable properties hundreds of miles away on Lake Ontario.

Meanwhile, the land right next to the boat club, the land that is actually owned by the state, is valued at 104,000 per acre. If that rate were applied to the boat club, it would be worth 3.2 million.

What did Howard come up with to compare this property too? I received this list of marina in New York State. The only property with more than 6 acres is this one in Ontario County, 4 hours and 19 minutes drive from Stuyvesant town hall. Here is the assessment from the county website.

The only property on the Hudson is this one, an abandoned lot in a high crime area: 2.72 acres sold in 2005 for 266,000 per acre.

What about Hudson New York. about 15 miles as the crow flies from the Hook Boat Club? Read this article. Right here in Columbia County a site on the Hudson is assessed at 4.5 million and the owners are objecting that 1.5 million is more appropriate.

Or how about Poughkeepsie Yacht Club? With 2 acres and one building, it is assessed at 1.7 million. Here is the card for that property.

How about any of the other boat clubs in the Mohawk yacht association?

WHOOPS! I made a little mistake. 

I, Will, the dog guy, pay more taxes on my house than the Hook Boat Club although I have a fraction of the land, only one house (not 25) and am not a marina on the Hudson River.

I pay more than them. And, while I write this, the assessor is trying to raise my taxes and figure out a way not to raise the taxes on the boat club.

It fricken outrageous.

The first entry on this blog was about attorney invoices. After months of FOILing and asking town supervisor Valerie Bertram to look into an apparent case of petty corruption or sloppy bookkeeping, after showing her that there is a 10,000 dollar discrepancy in 2009 attorney pay (invoices, ledger and budget produce different numbers), after getting no response and leadership from the supervisor, Martin raised the issue of attorney invoices at the town board meeting December 2010. The public discussion was followed by a summary on this blog.

Valerie Bertram has taken no action to address problems. Town attorney Tal Rappleyea admitted mistakes were made.

Those two elements also characterize issue of the Hook Boat Club assessment. As in the attorney invoice issue, a town employee, in this case the assessor Howard Gleason, has admitted he made mistakes. As in the attorney invoice issue, Valerie Bertram has been kept abreast of the situation and taken no action.

As in the case of the attorney invoices, the tax payer is getting the short end of the stick. The buck stops nowhere and employees have carte blanch to engage in what appear to be examples of blatant corruption and favoritism.

Here is my letter to Val asking for an outside audit of the boat club assessment. Starts in part two of the letter.

Here is a statement supporting the conclusion that no subdivision of the property ever occurred.

Here is an article in the Columbia Paper about the boat club.

Here we see Tal and Howard working to lower the assessment of the property without admitting the original assessment was a mistake.

Here we have Howard admitting a mistake and finding bizarre comparable properties to justify the erroneous assessment. (If it's a mistake, why assume it is about right?)

Here are photos of ongoing construction.

Here we see no building permits, no tax bills to the questionable acre, etc.


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