Several owners of lakeshore lodging businesses are unhappy with a townwide revaluation that includes large increases in their assessments, as they struggle with an economic shutdown and the expectation of a poor summer season.
The tentative assessment for Candlelight Cottages on Lake George, owned by Heidi Hess, went from about $1.7 million in 2019 to $3.6 million in 2020. Hess complained, and it was lowered to $2.8 million, still an increase of about 60 percent.
Bolton is paying Maxwell Appraisal Service of Syracuse $109,000 to do the revaluation, a two-year process. The first round of assessments was sent out in March, and several businesspeople who rent cottages or cabins on the lake argue their property has been overvalued.
Hess said she met with Michael Maxwell, who is conducting the revaluation.
“I said, ‘I have a seasonal business.’ He said, ‘That does not concern me.’
“I said, ‘No one would be able to get a mortgage based on that assessment,’” she said.
She has hired her own assessor to do an appraisal, Hess said, and she intends to seek a further reduction.
She and other owners argue their lakefront property may be valuable, but their businesses generate only modest revenues.
The properties could be worth more if the cottages were torn down and large, fancy homes were built in their place, but assessments are based on current use.
“Whatever the property is being used as is what we value it as,” said Christine Hayes, Bolton’s assessor.
Not a big moneymaker
Joe DiNapoli, owner of Porter’s Cottages, said he makes $45,000 to $60,000 a year from the business, which he bought 25 years ago and which includes 16 cottages next to the lake.
His assessment went from $1.7 million to $2.6 million for 2020, he said, which will cost him more than $5,000 a year in additional taxes.
“Why have my taxes gone up 25%? Taxes are a closed loop. If you tax me $5,000 more, somebody is getting a tax break,” he said.
The value of lakefront property has risen steeply, said Hayes, the town assessor. She argued against halting the revaluation because of the pandemic — something Hess has suggested.
“To now stop the revaluation would be discriminating against those whose assessments have gone down,” Hayes said.
In every revaluation, some assessments rise and some fall, changing the way the tax burden is apportioned.
Both DiNapoli and Hess said they knew of no properties like theirs selling for as high as their new assessments. Both also said the timing couldn’t be worse, heading into a tourism season likely to be the slowest in years, if not decades.
If the year is a financial disaster, a townwide adjustment to assessments could be made next year, Hayes said.
She is also the assessor for Horicon, where, in 2013, residential assessments were adjusted downward by 3%, she said. That sort of adjustment is unlikely to satisfy business owners whose assessments have jumped by 50% or more, however.
Kept in the family
Worth Russell, owner of The Point Cabins, with seven cabins on Huddle Bay, said the pandemic could freeze his income at zero. He needs a license from the state Department of Health to operate, and so far this year, he hasn’t gotten it.
“We have no income coming in for the foreseeable future,” he said.
The business is not particularly profitable — he made about $11,000 last summer on gross revenue of $95,000, he said — but it has been in his family since the 1950s.
“It was my grandmother’s place,” he said. “Every year, we scrape by. I don’t know what to do. I have a problem with not being allowed to work, then having my taxes go way up.”
His assessment went up about $400,000 — from $1.3 million last year to $1.7 million under the revaluation — and his taxes went up about $1,500.
He doesn’t qualify for any of the pandemic business assistance programs, and Bolton seems uninterested in helping local businesses hurt by the economic shutdown, he said.
“It’s all second homes, all rich people. Cottages keep getting sold off, and people are building private homes. It seems shortsighted,” he said.
The cottages bring in a steady flow of summertime visitors who shop in Bolton Landing and support other local businesses, he said.
Russell lives in the New York City area, where he works as a captain on the Staten Island Ferry. Ferry service has been cut back and some people have been laid off, but he has held onto his job, he said.
Despite the difficulties, he intends to hold onto the cabins, too.
“I’ll dig deep before I sell. I’ve been there a long time,” he said.
Besides, he added, with so many people out of work, “it’s not an opportune time to sell. Unless the town wants to buy it for the new assessed value.”