City Council Member John Canale relayed some “fatherly” advice Monday night to a pair of Batavia residents who came before the lawmaking body to express their aggravation after receiving notification of significant increases in their home assessments earlier in the day.
“My father gave me this advice years and years ago, and I’ve used it,” said Canale, addressing Wendy Walker of Otis Street and Karen Sherman of James Street – homeowners who spoke about their struggles during the public comments portion of Council’s Business Meeting at City Hall.
“I would definitely sign up for grievance day but don’t go in there and say I can’t afford this raise, please help me out. It’s not going to work,” Canale said. “You’ve got to do your homework. If you’re able to go online, you can access the Genesee County site, you can access houses in your neighborhood, you can access houses in other neighborhoods that are similar to your house and compare the assessed values of those houses to the assessed value of your house. Go in with the ammunition of why your house is being assessed higher than other people’s houses, if that’s the case.”
Canale said that a “booming” housing market is driving assessments up, mentioning that houses are going for $25,000 to $30,000 over the asking price “and people are coming in with cash.”
Walker said she came to the meeting to “protest and contest” the increase in the assessment of her house.
“I don’t know how that was made or why the increase to such a dramatic amount. The problem being is that we live on the Southside. I don’t know where this money is going that you’re going to be using because the Southside has not been improved,” she said.
Walker said there is a lot of crime in that area and “nothing has been cleaned up; nothing has been done.”
'What About My Justice?'
“The last time I checked, even in the pledge of allegiance, we say liberty and justice for all. What about my justice? Where are my taxes going? We pay the highest taxes in the nation, and there’s nothing to show for it. Not where I live, not on the Southside – no improvements. If I’m wrong, I surely would be willing to acknowledge my error in saying that, but I don’t believe it – I don’t.”
She said that her neighbors feel the same way and many people are moving out of New York for these reasons.
“And I think we should take that into consideration in the small, little town of Batavia,” she said. “I don’t understand this. If we’re getting all of this money from the government and I don’t know what that money is necessarily earmarked for – I don’t understand all of it – but it would seem we could help the little people in Batavia.”
Walker mentioned that her husband is disabled and on a fixed income, and his allowance barely goes up.
Sherman said she is a single mom who is providing for her daughter without any public assistance.
“You guys have raised my taxes every year since I bought my house. I get when you buy a house, it comes with a lot of maintenance and stuff, but every single year something has gone wrong – new roof, my windows have broken, gutters have come off,” she said.
She said her assessment went up $19,000 last year, and this year it is going up $30,000.
It's Getting Tougher and Tougher
“This is becoming very hard for me as a single parent and I do not get assistance,” she said. “I own my own business … I had to pick up two other little odds-and-ends jobs to make ends meet. Again, I just want to know why, where this is going and answers.”
In response, City Manager Rachael Tabelski said there was no reassessment last year.
“When you reassess a home, you assess it on value of comparable sales of like homes,” Tabelski offered. “And that’s all done through formulas and data. I don’t even see what reassessments are done in our community, just so everyone is aware. We do know that there were assessment letters that did go out this week.”
She, too, encouraged homeowners to call the assessment office for an informal review, adding that the assessor (Rhonda Saulsbury) will “gladly speak to you over the phone, on Zoom or through email to discuss the level of assessment and why.”
“And you can explain and challenge why that happened. If you don’t find that as a remedy, you can move to Grievance Day, which is the first Thursday after the fourth Tuesday in May (the 27th), and you could have assessment formally grieved in front of a board of your peers rather than the City of Batavia.”
City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr., also an Otis Street resident, said that he received his assessment letter just prior to the meeting and explained that reassessment is a regular process.
“They don’t just pick houses randomly. They use sections of the city and they try to rotate it around every so many years,” he said.
The discussion then shifted to Tabelski and Council Member Robert Bialkowski defending the city’s budget and tax rate.
Tabelski: City Taxes Less Than Others
“The city actually has the lowest percentage of taxes we pay,” said Tabelski, noting that taxes pay for police, fire, snowplowing, parks and recreation and other services. “The county is slightly higher and then the school district, so it’s an ‘all in’ rate."
Bialkowski said the city doesn’t raise taxes (it did raise the tax rate by 1.38 percent this year, however) and doesn’t determine the assessments, but sets a tax levy that is distributed among property owners.
At that point, Viele expressed his frustration over the school tax rate.
“What I really want to complain about is the school because the (Batavia City) school (District) is out of hand. They need to have their head examined.”
Bialkowski compared the taxing entities, mentioning that taxes levied by the school district were more than $19 million compared to the city’s $5.25 million.
Jankowski said in recent years the city did not increase the property tax rate.
Christian: People Are Hurting
Council Member Rose Mary Christian proceeded to sympathize with Sherman and Walker.
“It’s fine and dandy what everyone is saying but government is out of control,” she said. “We’re not doing anything to help these people. Here’s a single mother by herself, taking care of her daughter. There is a mother, a woman, a wife taking care of her husband. Some of you have two incomes coming in; that’s fine and dandy for you. But there’s people out here that are really hurting and they need help.”
Christian, too, said they should take their concerns to Grievance Day.
“There’s no doubt about it -- schools are out of control. I would like to go to the next school meeting and I want to know if any of you want to join me,” she added. “And as far as our budget goes and everything else, we’re down $400,000 … and when May comes you’re going to see that people are really hurting because they’re not going to be able to pay their taxes.”
Photo: Karen Sherman, right, makes a point about her home's assessment as Wendy Walker looks on at Monday night's City Council meeting. Photo by Mike Pettinella.
Information from the assessment letter:
If you disagree with your new Full Value Assessment:
- Go to https://cityofbatavia.prosgar.com
- Print an Informal Review Application
- Email your completed Informal Review Application to: [email protected]
- All Informal Review submissions must be received by April 23, 2021 for consideration
- For questions or more information, please call 1-866-910-1776 no later than April 21, 2021.