The Common Council’s recent decision to retain GAR Associates LLC for a yearly “equity improvement project” is a giant leap forward for every property owner in the city of Lockport. With regular updating of fair market values, gone will be the high anxiety felt by property owners receiving their decennial Change of Assessment Notice.
After decades of city leadership running from the word as well as the concept of assessment, the 2022-2023 council and Mayor Michelle Roman ran toward it with open arms. Finally, the wisdom of routine reassessment to maintain a 100% equalization rate — and ensure every property owner pays their “fair share” of the local tax load, not more or less based on an outdated calculation of property value — has been accepted.
The council’s vote to authorize Roman to make a deal with GAR Associates followed another jolting experience with every-decade-or-so revaluation.
The change notices sent to all property owners this past March reflected the first reassessment of property values since 2011 (when reval updated values last cast in 2001). A lot had changed in the housing market in the interim, especially in the “hot” years 2020 and 2021 from which most-recent sales data was tapped to calculate current market values. The increases, in some cases double or triple a property’s 2012 taxable value, caused howls of outrage and surely some profound worry about the future from property owners who assumed a higher assessment means a bigger tax bill.
But that’s not always the case. In fact, city Assessor Tracy Farrell pointed out, among 8,200 parcels, if GAR’s tentative numbers stood, more than half would get a smaller tax bill next year.
In other words: Revaluation exposed the fact that more than half of all city property tax payers have been shelling out more than their fair share, for some portion of the past decade, based on outdated assessments. Ouch.
Of course the wild swings in property value between 2011 and 2022 were driven by a hot housing market in only the past few years. Blame all the buyers who overpaid for property and in doing so drove up the value of comparables.
Now that the trend is waning, reportedly, local skeptics of assessment may wonder: should the city really shell out $40,000 a year to GAR Associates to keep up with what, going forward, might amount to only slight changes in property values over the course of a year, or two, or three …?
Considering this city’s tortured history with revaluation — infrequent and consequently costly ($400,000 for the latest one) and chaotic, every single time — the question practically answers itself.
Regular / ongoing assessment with the goal of maintaining a 100% equalization rate is the only way to ensure every property owner is paying their fair share, not more, or less, every year. Finally, the right mix of people were in place at 1 Locks Plaza to get it going. That’s good for Lockport.