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Tarrytown Schools Discuss Tax Certiorari Issues

SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. – There's one problem that has been plaguing the Union Free School District of the Tarrytowns for years and will continue to be an issue for years to come: tax certiorari.

That's what school district attorney John Burkhardt told the Board of Education at a recent meeting.

Tax certiorari is when a property owner challenges the tax assessment for the property. The school district has been seeing more and more assessment challenges for larger properties, such as apartment buildings and single-family homes, Burkhardt said.

These challenges mean the school district is paying more back to taxpayers who feel that the assessments on their properties are too high.

The school district settles almost all tax certiorari claims because the only thing that's in question is the value of the property, Burkhardt said. There's no point in going to trial, Burkhardt said, especially because trials can be extremely expensive.

One big issue behind all these challenges, Burkhardt said, is that the assessment rolls were finalized more than 40 years ago for both the towns of Greenburgh and Mount Pleasant. Burkhardt said. The school district only deals with town assessment rolls, not village rolls.

“The problem that we have is that the assessment rolls are so far out of date that the reductions are bigger and the tax rates are higher and it's more and more difficult to defend the assessment,” Burkhardt said.

Revaluation is the answer to fixing problems with tax certiorari, Burkhardt said That would bring assessment rolls up to date and put everyone on an equal footing, since some properties haven't been reassessed since the '50s and '60s.

John Staiger, assistant superintendent for business, said the best solution would be a mandatory, county-wide reassessment because “everybody's in the same boat.” Re-assessments aren't popular with voters because they think that a reassessment would raise their taxes.

This means that any politicians who are willing to mandate a reassessment would likely be voted out of office. Reassessing county-wide means that politicians have a better chance at staying in office.

There have been some attempts at reassessment on the county level, as well as in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. All have failed. Superintendent Howard Smith said that he didn't think a future county-wide reassessment would be feasible during this time.

“I think now unfortunately you have to add the excuse that there's no money to pay for it,” Smith said, noting that reassessments cost millions of dollars.

Smith dismissed the notion that reassessments would cause taxpayers to pay more in taxes, calling it “galling.”

“If you think that you're going to pay more taxes, then you must believe that for however long you've been paying taxes,” that you've been paying less than you should be paying, Smith said.

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