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Nov 12, 2019

Eastchester, supervisor protect Bronxville, stand strong against revaluation

For Eastchester Town Supervisor Tony Colavita, it’s not worth the bother to undertake a revaluation of town property so that an estimated $300million in Bronxville real estate that doesn’t get taxed by the town of Eastchester, the Eastchester Fire District and Westchester County would get taxed in the future.

Eastchester has not conducted a revaluation since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. The municipality is among 18 of Westchester’s 25towns and cities that have not revalued their real estate since 1987.

Colavita says he has no plans to do so any time soon.

I recently caught up with Colavita to learn more about his opposition to bringing tax fairness to his town, following publication of the Tax Watch review of the assessment rolls in Eastchester and its Village of Bronxville.

Bronxville tax break winners

Tax Watch compared the Bronxville and Eastchester assessment rolls,and used the state equalization rate to make the Bronxville assessments comparable to the fair market value resulting from Eastchester outdated assessments. The potential savings are based on2019 tax rates, which would change if the town conducts a revaluation.

Eastchester’s assessment rolls are at just 1.1% of their market value while Bronxville has kept its rolls at 100% since 2007. Bronxville’s up-to-datevalues revealed huge discrepancies in the taxable value of homes in Bronxville for school and village purposes compared to the lesser values they are taxed on for town, county and fire district taxes.

The benefits of the broken system goes, to a significant degree, to the owners of stately mansions in Bronxville’s historic Lawrence Parkneighborhood, who score huge savings, year after year, because the town’s rolls undervalue Bronxville real estate by an estimated $300 million.

Colavita said the town has no desire — or requirement — to update its assessment rolls.

Colavita said he’d rather wait for the state of New York to pass a proposed bill that would require municipalities to conduct periodic revaluations, as they do in all but eight states across the nation. Without that reform, for which there is scant support in Albany, it’s up to elected officials like Colavita, whose duties include levying property taxes that homeowners are required to pay.

Without any requirement, he’s not going to propose such an undertaking in his town. That means the town cannot raise the value of under-assessed properties, even if they sell for considerably more than the town assessor says they are worth.

The Tax Watch study found 88 Bronxville homes with a taxable value for town purposes more than $1 million less than their village values.

“I would not be opposed if the state or the county came up with an equitable, fair formula, and it was mandatory every four years,” Colavita said.“But just to do it voluntarily because a small percentage of homes is under-assessed is not worth the disruption. It creates as many problems as it solves.”

Bronxville Mayor Mary Marvin, who was mayor in 2007 when the village updated its assessment rolls, recalled her family was living “on the hilltop” then — in a large home that wasn’t in fashion during the town’s last revaluation in 1941.

“That house was a white elephant back then,” she said. “People couldn’t afford to heart them. Nobody wanted them. They were assessed fairly for that time. But that was just a snapshot in time.”‘

She said Bronxville was glad it opted for fairness in 2007.

“Under-assessed homes stay under-assessed for decades,” she said. “We felt we had to capture the pockets of great under-assessments. My taxes went up $18,000!”

Conducting a revaluation would create fairness in the tax system, with property owners paying taxes based on the market value of their properties.

Colavita, however, fears the consequences.

Some of the problems Colavita alluded to could be complaints from the owners of properties that were under-assessed and have not been paying their fair share of the tax burden.

He also fears that revaluation would bring lower assessments for commercial properties, which would shift the property tax burden to homeowners. Colavita said he wasn’t alone in his opposition to updating the town’s assessment rolls.

“I discussed it with the Town Board, and the board is not inclined,” he said.

That discussion, Colavita said, took place out of public view, while the Town Board’s five members were reviewing town documents before a public meeting. While Town Board members Glenn Bellitto said he opposed revaluation, two of three members — Theresa Nicholson and Luigi Marcoccia— did not respond to emails or phone messages.

Town Board member Joe Dooley said he’d back revaluation, but only if state law were changed to make it “more fair and equitable.” He feared the fallout for longtime residents struggling to remain in town.

But Greenburgh Assessor Edye McCarthy said a study of about 2,000 elderly Greenburgh homeowners with Enhanced STAR exemptions found that their property taxes went down by an average of about $330 a year following Greenburgh’s revaluation in 2016.

Both Colavita and Dooley said that having Eastchester conduct a revaluation on its own would penalize the town because it would also increase Eastchester’s share of the county tax base — and tax burden.

“There’s a potential increase in county taxes to Eastchester residents if other municipalities don’t do the same,” Dooley said.

That strategy, which transfers more of the county tax burden onto property owners in municipalities that maintain updated assessment rolls, has caught the attention of Latimer.

 

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