Tax Challenges Down, Still A Hurdle For Harrison

The Town/Village of Harrison saw a decrease last year in a number of tax challenges it received, but still faced a costly burden of refunding back taxes.

After hitting a record high in 2011–with 10,596 tax appeals–the number of county residents filing tax grievances reported a slight decrease last year. Westchester County Clerk Timothy Idoni recently reported a total 9,068 small claims assessment review or SCAR petitions, filed among 38 municipalities in 2012.

“A decline in the volume of appeals means less stress on local tax rolls,” Idoni stated in a press release. “When appeals are granted or settled, it forces municipalities to identify equivalent reductions in spending or unpopular increases in revenue.”

Story originally appeared in Jan. 25, 2013 edition of The Harrison Review.  

The number of SCARs filed in Harrison decreased last year. According to county assessment figures, Harrison residents fi led a total of 324 petitions in 2012–a decrease from the 384 filed a year be-fore. Still, Harrison is No. 9 among Westchester municipalities for having one of the highest volumes of petitions filed.

Town Comptroller Maureen MacKenzie explained that small claims payouts last year were significantly lower than in year’s past. At the end of 2012, Harrison paid out $137,556 to reimburse residents petitions–approximately $500,000 less than it paid in 2011.

County filings for SCARs have steadily increased more than 1,000 percent since 2005, though experts hope the recent trend is evidence of a stabilizing of property assessments. Although relatively few appeals are filed during years when real estate values near stability, the decrease of 1,528 petitions last year is still substantially higher from county real estate values recorded between 2001 and 2005.Harrison also saw a decrease in expenses for tax certioraris–tax challenges reserved for commercial properties or residents seeking a much higher reduction–paying out just $145,862 in 2012 as opposed to $441,250 in 2011.

But while the number of commercial certiorari challenges brought against the town was fewer in 2011, the settlements paid by the town were much higher. This was mostly due to the size of the commercial properties seeking reductions in 2011, some of which included JP Morgan Chase, Oak Valley Consultants, Westair, Aviation Westchester and the 285,000 square-foot commercial office space at 500 Mamaroneck Ave.Meanwhile, last year certiorari payouts remained primarily in the low thousands, with the most expensive reimbursement paid to the OCC Purchase for $65,425. Although the apparent drop may seem to be a large improvement, the effects of SCAR refunds and tax certiorari settlements have a much broader impact than simply draining the annual budget for local municipalities.

Refunds are granted based on a challenge to a property’s assessment. So with every refund comes an accompanying reduction in the jurisdiction’s assessment rolls, which determine how a municipal tax levy is divided up among property owners.“When the assessment roll goes down, the tax rate goes up,” Idoni told The Harrison Report in a recent interview.According to Idoni, each time a property owner receives a reduction to his or her assessed property value, and consequently his or her taxes, other property owners must make up the difference.But because of the decline in the number of tax certiorari and SCAR petitions, the town is able to levy tax increases at a lower rate than previous years. In 2013, residents’ tax bills will increase by 2.94 percent for the town and 5.7 percent for the county.

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