10/23/2009

Revaluation Creeping Up

Posted by MJ



Image - F&M Building Reflected in Bewley Building


LUSJ reporting on the revaluation progress.

A city committee interviewed representatives of four private firms interested in taking on citywide property revaluation Thursday.

The committee, comprised of officials including Mayor Michael Tucker, Acting Assessor Joe Macaluso and Real Property Appraiser Lena Villella, is supposed to recommend one of the firms to the Common Council for hire next month.

If a firm is hired, it’ll be the kick-off of a revaluation project that’s expected to cost city taxpayers about $200,000 by 2011.
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When that happens, property owners are said to pay less — or more — than their “fair share” of property tax.

Revaluation is about “getting it so it’s fair for everyone. Right now it’s not,” Pat Schrader, 4th Ward alderman, said this week.
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“I think there are an awful lot of remodeled houses that are worth more than they were eight years ago. They’re not paying their fair share, and we need to catch up with ’em,” he said.
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Third Ward Alderman Flora McKenzie believes the point of revaluation really is to make taxation fairer, but unlike those who see a scheme to raise everybody’s assessment, she fears the opposite will happen.

“There are some houses in really sad shape that shouldn’t be assessed as high as they are. There are houses in my ward that I wouldn’t pay $1 for,” she said. “The way I look at it, we’re going to lose, not gain (value)
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"Fair". Is it fair to watch the F&M building deteriorate in a long term race to lessen its tax burden to the owner? Is it fair to watch your neighbor's tax rate go down because they do not invest in their property (and thus the neighborhood hurting sale prices) and watch yours go up because you took the risk to invest in the city? I have the same outlook as McKenzie as it is a predictable path of the process in older areas.

I think most people will agree that those who can pay more should shoulder some more of the tax burden. In a "growth" area, pure assessment will work as people have a much lower risk in getting a return on their continual investment. They will take a tax hit knowing that they will recoup investment upon sale with rising house prices. But in a low demand area investing is risky enough with near static (or dropping) home prices due to surrounding disinvestment and an increased tax hit is just another blow. The inertia of it all is very difficult to turn around.

Old, low demand areas must be creative in their taxation so that they promote investment instead of a long slide of disinvestment. Residents should be rewarded for taking a chance of bringing reinvestment to an area. The long term growth will far out weigh the "fairness" trip to decay. Reward people "draws" such as nice houses and buildings: not low tax empty buildings, empty lots and parking. A mix of land based and value based taxation along with other tax incentives for hard hit areas will help turn things around. Or how about freezing the tax-rate at the purchase price until it is sold again? It rewards people for sticking around and investing and it bases it off of a true market rate price. You'll make up the taxes upon the next sale (or sales as others have the incentive to invest also). There are probably many more ideas out there but straight assessments are pry the least conducive to spurring investment in the city.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog, and I love it. Thanks for doing this.

Moving on, the F&M building is just another example of what seems like Elmer Granchelli's continued desire to destroy downtown Lockport, or at least suburbanize it. People seem to forget that Lockport is an urban center (with an enormous amount of potential), and needs to be treated as such. Encouraging this requires a strong planning presence. The lack of this presence has resulted in Granchelli's vacant, decaying structure in the middle of our downtown. He needs to sh*t or get off the pot. This building could have so much potential if it were in the right hands. The same exact type of building renovation and adaptive reuse is happening all over Buffalo, why not Lockport? The same action that finally forced him to give up his "lawn" in the middle of our downtown should be taken with this gem of a building. All of his properties are an embarrassment to this city: the Lockview Plaza which manages to not only destroy the fabric of the street in front of it, but also the view of the locks behind it. Does anyone else think it's ridiculous that the best view of the locks for our growing tourist base is restricted by an unnecessary surface lot, threatening restricted parking signs, and a guard rail?! It's just embarrassing. Other Granchelli beauties: Heritage Square and those faux-historic streetlamps which have never worked, the single story/surface parking Papa Leo's property. The single story vacant building with fake columns on Main and Locust, his current lawn between the vacant Lerch and Daly and City Center....the list goes on. Are his properties vacant because they're so crappy and poorly maintained, or is it because they're so crappy and poorly marketed.
Thanks,
Dave

MJ said...

Hello. Thanks for the comment.

I've only been here a little over 6 years so I'm not too familiar with the "whole" story. Upon moving here, Lockport seemed to have suffered from the same drunken urban renewal rampage that most other NE cities did (but still had great features). Haphazardly knocking down old urban infrastructure for the promise of something new was devastating. That "something" which usually didn't come (south block) or of far substantial build quality and urban design (Lockview Plaza). Cities who tried to out 'burb the 'burbs lost and those that embraced the unique urban environments that were there eventually turned around (Elmwood Ave in Buffalo) after those who felt the loss of urbanity returned to existing building stock.

Most of these cities (pry like Lockport) also adopted suburban zoning codes that totally wipe out the density and pedestrian nature that builds a healthy city. Elmwood in Buffalo always has parking complaints while areas that were plowed over for parking are ghost towns after the office workers leave. Any area should be happy to have a parking and traffic "problem". It usually means things are working. We handle 20,000 people for some downtown concerts but yet need to keep zoning poor parking dominate site plans (like Family Video?)

Lockport has great bones, great in-tact housing stock (compared to Buffalo and the Falls), awesome history (Locks right downtown), and has made some great choices in years since I've been here. The Master plan (where the Ulrich City Center Design came from) needs to be supported by the zoning ordinances and not be exceptions to it. Residential investment needs to be not only supported but made a "no-brainer" for those looking (downtown lofts - housing rehabs/upgrades)if the city is going to see a long term growth instead of the long slide to vacant lots.

Liz said...

My taxes will likely double once this happens as my house has had significant cosmetic improvements made to it. I'm not in a desirable area of Lockport. Guess I should have just left my house looking like a dump, according to this plan. Being among the highest taxes in the area, this will likely price me out of Lockport and I might have to move.

I'm not entirely opposed to this process, but if taxes do increase for those properties that have done significant improvements (siding, driveways, windows, etc.) there should be two things here:

1) Phase in the tax hike. Those who are making the city look better should not be penalized for doing so. If there's a significant increase in a property's tax burden due to the city not having an accurate picture of what the property looks like in the past 20 years, new owners of the property who made it look better in good faith shouldn't have to bear the burden all at once.

2) Tax credits for those who are making the property look better in an area which has very low development/income/high crime. I'm looking at you, lowertown. This might help spur those who might want to improve their properties to do it, rather than skirting building codes and leaving well enough alone because their tax rate might go up.

An all out "what's fair is fair" after years of the city not keeping tabs on what was going on is not the way to go. I just bought this house, not realizing the city had no idea what my property looked like and had no revalued it in a very long time. I'm not opposed to paying my fair share, but looking around my neighborhood and from the comments of passerbys since I have bought this place, my improvements didn't just help me, they've helped the city too.

Anonymous said...

Liz- I agree with you totally on this issue. In my own neighborhood there are many people that refuse to make exterior improvements in fear that their taxes will increase. Unfortunately we have to be subjected to these unsightly dwellings. We who want to improve our homes and take pride in having a nice place have to pay more taxes and suffer living next to dumpy homes. It irks me to no end! I've gone to housing court many times as an observer and am disgusted to see many people that are financially able cry poor and get the sympathy of the judge. Many times they do the bare minimum and get by.... it's very frustrating.

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