By ASHLEY HELMS
The Village of Tuckahoe recently paid a certiorari settlement worth roughly $103,000 to the 108 Sagamore Road Corporation, which runs an apartment building located at 108 Sagamore Road. This is one of the largest certiorari refunds the village has paid out this year.
The apartment building sought a refund for tax assessment years 2008 through 2012. The payment is something that Mayor Steve Ecklond, a Republican, said the village had seen coming down the pipeline for more than a year.
Tuckahoe works with an outside tax certiorari attorney John Burkhart, who handles tax certiorari claims, and his firm notifies the village when to expect a claim. Burkhart negotiates a refund amount with the applicant’s attorney and then the matter goes before the village board for approval or denial. A tax certiorari claim is when a taxpayer seeks to lower their property’s assessment and receive a refund for what they argue is an overcharge.
“We almost always approve them because the firm minimizes the amount of money we have to pay,” Ecklond said.
A bond worth about $130,000 was allocated to help pay for the village’s certiorari claims for 2013, which became part of the current municipal budget. The total 2013-2014 Tuckahoe village budget stands at roughly $11 million.
“[The Sagamore Road Corporation] ate up a big chunk of it,” Ecklond said.
Earlier this year, the village paid out about $150,000 to a Verizon Wireless store, which stood in Depot Square. It was the highest certiorari claim the village has seen in recent years.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s not very unique,” Ecklond said regarding certiorari cases.
Tax certiorari claims are formal proceedings with property owners usually hiring a lawyer to contest the case before the state Supreme Court.
As an alternative, a Small Claims Assessment Review, or SCAR, is a low-cost option of an appeal process that most residential property owners are eligible for. The process provides for a review before a hearing officer in an informal setting.
SCARs are filed when a local municipality or grievance board formally rejects a property tax grievance leaving a property owner unsatisfied with his or her assessment. According to data provided by Westchester County Clerk Timothy Idoni’s office, there has been a 44 percent decline in the number of SCARs filed in Tuckahoe for the first half of 2013. In 2012, there were 29 SCARs. So far in 2013, there have only been 16.
Tuckahoe doesn’t have any specific plans for decreasing the likelihood of challenges to property assessments, but there are processes, though lengthy and expensive, that some neighboring communities have taken on.
A village-wide revaluation—similar to what has been done in the Town of Mamaroneck and villages of Bronxville and Pelham—would reassess property values and, consequently, may reduce costly certioraris. But Ecklond said a reassessment hasn’t been done in the village for a very long time due to the expense of contracting the work out.
Trustee Greg Luisi, a Republican, said, though the village has bonded to pay certiorari claims in the immediate term, the financial burden is ultimately born by the taxpayers. He said that, while owners of small homes may save $3,000 to $5,000 and feel satisfied with their refund, a large apartment complex gets a substantial refund that goes directly back into the owner’s pockets.
“It’s not one of those things I like that we do,” Luisi said.
Luisi said that tax certioraris have been relatively common since the real estate market crashed in 2008. That’s when more and more owners called for reassessments of their property values and taxes.
“Those values went down and their taxes didn’t stand in line with the property,” Luisi said.
All in all, Ecklond said that, though these claims burden the village budget, it’s best to take Burkhart’s advice regarding whether the village should pay. Luisi said the village has been very satisfied with the results.
“If you reject it and it goes to court and you lose, you still have to pay all the legal fees on the applicant’s side on top of certiorari,” Ecklond said.