Reassessment boosts Lockport’s total valuation by nearly 50%

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Driven by a hot housing market, the first citywide property reassessment in Lockport since 2011 boosted the city’s total valuation by almost 50%, officials said Monday.

But the owners of the city’s 8,200 parcels of real estate can challenge the figures in the revaluation notices that were mailed last week. About 85% of them showed increases, Assessor Tracy A. Farrell said.

She and Director of Finance Timothy K. Russo were at pains to show this doesn’t necessarily mean a giant property tax increase for residents.

“Quite a few people’s tax bills are going to be going down because of this, which means they’ve been overpaying for quite a long time,” Farrell said. “Some people were grossly underassessed, and we’re making it fair for everybody. After 10 years of not keeping up with it, things have gone astray.”

Nevertheless, Farrell said she expects the city’s five-member Board of Assessment Review to have a busy time on “Grievance Day,” which is May 24.

In a Facebook post, Mayor Michelle M. Roman said the Common Council authorized the reassessment in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The appraisals were done by GAR Associates, an Amherst company the city hired, which started work just as the local real estate market was heating up.

“Unfortunately this included the sales of the last two years in which the housing market was a seller’s market with a lot (of) buyers paying well above asking prices. I had asked them to include 2019 in their process, but they said they use the last two years,” Roman wrote in her post.

Michelle Roman

The assessment letters showed what a property’s tax bills would have been if the new assessments had been in place for this year’s taxes. The new assessments, as altered by challenges, are to take effect July 1, and will have their first impact on this fall’s school tax bills.

But it’s up to the Lockport Board of Education, the Common Council and the Niagara County Legislature to pass budgets that will determine how much property tax revenue is needed. Then the new assessments will be used to determine what tax rate must be charged to obtain that money.

The taxes collected are called the tax levy, and New York State has a law that limits the levy increase in any year to 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, Russo said. However, by a supermajority vote, elected officials can override that tax cap.

“If the Council proposed a zero percent levy increase, people’s tax bills would almost equate to the same dollars as last year,” Russo said.

Russo said if the proposed higher assessments were used without change and the Council raises the levy by 2%, the 2023 city tax rate would be $12.88 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, down from the $18.86 per thousand the city charged this year.

Before the revaluation, City of Lockport properties were assessed at 67% of their true market value, according to the state Office of Real Property Services.

“When we are not at 100% we pay more in school and county taxes than those communities that are at 100%, hence the term equalization,” Roman wrote.

Farrell said GAR has an April 1 deadline for residents to seek an informal review of the assessments. Property owners who remain dissatisfied can take their complaint to the assessment review board. If that result doesn’t please them, they can take the city to court.

Published by The Buffalo News

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