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Greece residents urge AG to investigate assessments

A group of residents in Greece are trying to urge the New York State Attorney General to investigate the town's recent property assessment.
Gino Fanelli
A group of residents in Greece are trying to urge the New York State Attorney General to investigate the town's recent property assessment.

A group of about 200 Greece residents have signed onto a letter asking New York state Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the town assessment process.

In a lengthy statement provided to WXXI, the petitioners argue that Greece’s assessment process was compromised and used to benefit those in town offices, their family and friends. The letter cites assessments on the homes of Town Supervisor Bill Reilich, Deputy Town Supervisor Michelle Marini, and Town Assessor Richard Baart, alongside those of their neighbors.

For example, Marini purchased a two-story craftsman-style house in 2005 for $219,000, which became the assessed value until the 2023 reassessment.

In this year’s property tax rolls, Marini’s property assessment fell by nearly $22,000, to $197,200. Most other homes on her street saw values increase with the reassessment. Marini sold the home at the end of December for $450,000.

The petitioners’ statement argues the assessment qualifies as “official misconduct” under New York state penal law.

“Not only is it blatantly obvious that the assessments are not going up equally and evenly as required by law but the officials in charge and their friends are getting massive discounts,” the statement reads.

Whether the Attorney General’s Office will take up the case is not yet known. The town argues that the drops in some assessments are not a sign of malfeasance, but simply bringing properties in line with the neighborhood.

Town assessments are determined by a formula that largely looks at recent home prices. The Rochester region ranks as the third hottest real estate market in the nation, according to a December report from Only Toledo, Ohio, and Oxnard, California, ranked higher. Rochester also was predicted to have the highest increase in home prices in 2024, at 10.4%.

Baart, the town assessor, said that sort of market largely explains why several of Marini’s neighbors saw double-digit percentage increases – bringing those values closer in line with reality. He also said that the sheer stock of housing in Greece precludes favoritism.

This year, the town assessors logged 34,558 properties, according to Greece town property rolls.

“We have too many properties, as do most assessors, to even get into that kind of nonsense,” Baart said.

Baart said that the drop in assessment for a property like Marini’s is a sign of previous overassessment and it’s meant to bring the house back into “parity with the neighborhood.” But Baart also noted that the region is in uncharted waters as far as increased home sale prices, with homes, like Marini’s selling for far more than assessed value.

“On a nationwide basis, we have never seen an escalation of homes the way we are now,” Baart said. “...While that’s some of the story, it’s conveniently missed that it’s not the assessed value that governs the taxes, it’s the taxing entities.”

Marini’s property is not the only property in her neighborhood to drop in value. For example, the similarly sized house directly across the street, which was purchased in 2020, also dropped in assessed value, from $302,000 to $285,400. Meanwhile, many of her other neighbors saw increases of about 10%.

While assessments have some bearing on tax burden for property owners, they aren’t the be-all end-all. Tax levies by the county, school districts, and towns play a large roll in what homeowners pay.

Marini’s former house, under the new assessment, did see a modest drop of $448.37 across town, county, and school district tax bills, or a reduction of about 4.8%.

Tax rates for Monroe County have been dropping steadily for decades, hitting a low of $6.65 per $1,000 of assessed value in fiscal year 2024. Comparably, the rate was $9.10 in 2004.

Moreover, not all town officials saw drops in their assessed value. For example, town Supervisor Bill Reilich saw a 5.5% increase in assessed value. His tax bill for the year also saw a modest increase. This is despite several homes in his neighborhood seeing a decrease in their assessments.

In a statement sent from Reilich’s assistant Tammy Rivers, the Town of Greece denied any malfeasance.

“The Town is not aware of any pending investigations by the Office of the Attorney General and unequivocally denies any allegations of favoritism by the Town Assessor and his staff in the assessment process, which is and has been undertaken in a fair and equitable manner consistent with all applicable laws, regulations, and assessment standards,” the statement reads.

Baart also denied that any favoritism took place in the assessment process. He said that even if the town had picked winners, the benefits in practice are slim.

When asked why he thinks the complaints are being forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office, he was blunt.

“It means we’re getting ready for an election year,” Baart said. “That should explain some of it.”

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.