Four Rochester Councilmembers call for halt of city assessment
Four Rochester City Council members are calling for a pause on the city’s reassessment process, citing concern over the appeals process and potential tax impact.
“We have promised our constituents that their reassessments would be fair, honest and correct — but at this point, we feel it is a promise we are unable to keep,” read a letter sent Friday to Mayor Malik Evans.
The letter is signed by Councilmembers Willie Lightfoot, Stanley Martin, Mary Lupien, and Kim Smith. Evans declined, responding on Monday that a delay would ignore realities of the current market and could have negative consequences.
As it stands, the foursome lack a majority on the nine-member City Council.
They are asking for a two-year pause to review the impact of the city’s 2024 reassessment before the new valuations are finalized. A property’s assessed value is used to determine what real estate taxes are owed.
Last week, WXXI News reported on the skyrocketing assessments for houses across the city. In total, preliminary numbers show the city had a 68.4% increase, adding $3.4 billion to the city’s tax base. The highest rise in assessments was seen in the Beechwood neighborhood, where home values went up 136%. Other areas, like Maplewood and Marketview Heights, also saw values double.
A higher assessment does not automatically translate to a higher tax bill.
But, in the letter, the councilmembers state the assessment increases could be a detriment to financially vulnerable homeowners should they see a tax increase.
“Many of our residents have not recovered fully from the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning an increase of this magnitude will dampen their ability to balance the challenges life thrusts upon them,” the letter reads. “Thus, we are respectfully requesting that any new assessment be delayed for a period of two years so we can work together to find an amicable solution.”
The impact for individual taxpayers won’t be known until Mayor Malik Evans presents his 2024-25 budget proposal in May. The budget will include the tax levy. That figure is how much the city needs in total property taxes to pay for city services.
With that total, the city then will set the tax rate, which is applied to individual assessments. That rate is likely to go down, given the $3 billion residential tax base increase far exceeds the city’s typical year-over-year budget increase.
Lightfoot, a Democrat, who also is running in a New York state Assembly primary against incumbent Demond Meeks, said there is too much uncertainty to move forward.
“I don’t think the city did our due diligence to preempt a lot of the confusion and/or potential hysteria,” Lightfoot said. “There’s a lot of anxiety in the people I’m talking to, especially in our aging population in the city.”
Lightfoot said he is worried that many older residents may have had a difficult time navigating the appeals process. Lightfoot is encouraging residents to sign up to speak to City Council on Thursday.
The final deadline for appeals of assessments is March 1, with the deadline for informal call-in appeals passing last Friday, Feb. 9.
While it’s impossible to tell the total burden of taxes in the assessment without knowing the new tax rate, Lightfoot said he is concerned of the potential impact of just some homes going up significantly.
“Exactly how many people’s taxes will actually go up? We don’t know,” Lightfoot said. “So, let’s just pause, and first admit the fact that this could have been done better. Nobody’s perfect.”
In a letter to Lightfoot dated Monday, Mayor Evans wrote that the new assessments reflect rising home sale prices in Rochester and reiterated that the increases do not necessarily translate to an increase in property tax bills.
"Delaying this year’s quadrennial reassessment is not a sound approach and will have unintended consequences," the letter states. "A delay would put me in a position of ignoring current market values, which would actually negatively impact homeowners who would otherwise receive a tax decrease, and could shift the tax burden to homeowners.
"Ultimately, property values are increasing and are unlikely to revert back to pre-2020 values," the letter continued. "I believe it is critical that we remain transparent and current as it relates to actual property valuations in the city of Rochester."