SYRACUSE, N.Y. – City officials said they are committed to making property assessments more fair and to curbing a widely abused tax exemption, two issues highlighted by Syracuse.com’s reporting on property taxes this year.
Representatives of Mayor Ben Walsh told city councilors Friday the mayor will ask the council to pass legislation amending a tax exemption that has been exploited for projects it was never intended to help
They also said Walsh’s team is taking steps to improve the fairness of property assessments. Assessment Commissioner David Clifford and Frank Caliva, chief administrative officer, spoke at a meeting of the council’s finance committee.
Clifford said City Hall aims to rein in the lucrative 485-a tax exemption for mixed-use buildings. The tax break was created by state lawmakers to help revive old commercial buildings. But it has been used to build brand new luxury student apartments on the sites of demolished buildings, among other anomalies, Syracuse.com reported in April.
State lawmakers proposed amendments to the exemption that failed to pass earlier this year. City officials plan to propose their own changes “because the state seems to be taking their time amending that law,’’ Clifford said.
The details are still being worked out, but the proposal will prevent developers from claiming the exemption for new construction or for buildings that don’t include both residential and commercial uses, Clifford said.
“The state’s law had loopholes big enough to drive a truck through,’’ he said.
Councilor-at-Large Tim Rudd, who chairs the finance committee, said he would support the legislation. “Whatever we can do to help,’’ he said.
Rudd called the committee meeting to discuss problems of unfair assessments highlighted in a series of articles on Syracuse.com in September.
The news stories showed that many high-value homes are under-assessed and pay too little tax, while less valuable properties in poor neighborhoods tend to be over-assessed. In some cases, homeowners were paying more property tax than other residents whose houses were worth twice as much.
Caliva said city officials are considering conducting a full revaluation of all properties, something that has not been done in Syracuse since 1996. But first officials would have to find a way to pay for it, he said. Clifford has said previously the price could exceed $2 million.
“It is a significant cost,’’ Caliva said.
In the meantime, city officials have been working all year with experts at Johns Hopkins University to develop a computer model to improve assessments by predicting which properties are most likely to gain or lose market value. They hope to have the model ready to use sometime next year.
Clifford also said he will request additional staffing when he submits a budget request for 2020, so that assessors can appraise more properties. At Walsh’s urging, assessors have stepped up their reappraisal of residential properties this year, he said.
Caliva said the assessment office has a “dedicated team of professionals’’ who need more resources to keep assessments accurate.
“We are really committed to finding them additional resources, both people and, increasingly, technology,’’ Caliva said.
Published by Syracuse.com, Nov. 4, 2019