By Marissa Maier
No one can remember when East Hampton Town ever received a full assessment, but Supervisor Bill McGintee now says one is necessary. Prompted by the dramatic differences in property value assessments on the East Hampton side of the village, which the mayor said could wreak havoc in the village, The Sag Harbor Board of Trustees has decided to continue its role as an assessing board, delaying a local law which would have given the job to Southampton Town. The decision may also lead, for the first time, to a full town-wide property tax re-assessment by East Hampton Town.
During a special work session held on Wednesday, December 17, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees held a public hearing on delaying the law, which sought to terminate the village’s “status as a separate property assessing unit for village real property tax purposes.”
Because the village of Sag Harbor lies between East Hampton and Southampton Towns, taxpayers either pay town taxes to East Hampton Town or Southampton Town depending on the location of their property. However, the town property tax assessments vary greatly between the two. Since 1992, Southampton Town has conducted a series of property tax reassessments, which assess properties in the town at 100% of market value. While in East Hampton a full, town-wide reassessment has never been conducted. Property and houses in East Hampton are usually reassessed when they are built, sold or renovated. This means that there is a huge discrepancy between the tax values for properties in East Hampton and those in Southampton.
To address the discrepancy, Sag Harbor Village has historically contracted with the Town of Southampton to assess both the Southampton and the East Hampton side of the village for taxes that are paid to the village. This assessment is only used for the village taxes and not taxes paid to East Hampton Town. Sag Harbor residents on the East Hampton side of the village, pay their town taxes based on the East Hampton assessment of their properties.
Last month, the village board passed legislation allowing it to relinquish its status as an assessing unit and to give this status over to Southampton Town. They did this to increase efficiency and avoid duplication between the village and the town. For example, when a resident, whose house is on the Southampton side of the village, wanted to appeal the real property tax value of their home they would have to first visit the Sag Harbor trustees and then the Southampton town board. By passing this legislation, which would have gone into effect in January, property owners would have had to appeal their case to their respective town only, and not the village.
Last month, however, it came to the attention of the village that if this local law went into effect they would not be able to use the property values, as assessed by Southampton Town, for village tax purposes for the East Hampton side of the village. Instead, the properties on the East Hampton side of the village would have to be assessed based on the East Hampton Town assessments. It was at this point that the village became aware of the implications the law would have had, considering the discrepancies in values on the East Hampton side of the village.
If the local law had been enacted, 63 percent of property owners would have had an increased assessment and 23 percent would have had a decreased assessment. Of the properties with an increased assessment, 47 percent would have seen their assessment increase by 50 percent or more, and 15 percent would have seen their assessment double. Of the properties with a decreased assessment, some would have decreased by 98 percent.
“Its scary,” said board member Tiffany Scarlato of these drastic discrepancies. She added that she has seen assessment discrepancies of some $20 million in the same area in East Hampton.
In a letter to East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee last week, Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris urges the town to do a complete and full assessment of the town to begin addressing the discrepancies.
“As you can see, these wide fluctuations of assessed value among properties with similar market values would create havoc within our Village,” wrote Ferraris.
The supervisor agrees.
“An assessment is long overdue. It is something that has to be done,” said McGintee in an interview this week. He cited a lack of political will and public resistance as the reason a whole town assessment has been shelved for decades.
“I think people fear that their taxes might go up … I can’t speak for past administrations but I believe a lot of elected officials are afraid of tackling [an assessment] because of political fall out … Many elected officials don’t seem to survive a reassessment,” McGintee added.
McGintee hopes to sway public opinion by educating them on the full implications of the assessment – including its good points. He believes, for example, an assessment would level the playing field for East Hampton taxpayers by evenly and fairly distributing the burden of property taxes.
Many residents already agree with McGintee, like Sag Harbor Board of Trustees member Brian Gilbride. Gilbride lives on the East Hampton side of the village and believes an assessment would help rather than hurt blue-collar families.
“Some of the Further Lane and ocean front homes pay less in taxes than some of the working class homes in Springs and Amagansett,” said Gilbride.
Board member Ed Deyermond, who is also the Southampton Town Assessor, estimates an East Hampton Town assessment could be completed in one year. Deyermond says the initial Southampton Town assessment included 50,000 homes – roughly double the number of homes in East Hampton Town – and was completed in two years.Â
McGintee, however, is worried about finding funding for an assessment project. The 1992 Southampton Town assessment cost $1.8 million dollars to complete. Deyermond says that although East Hampton is a great deal smaller than Southampton Town, costs associated with conducting an assessment have increased since 1992. McGintee guesses that an East Hampton assessment would cost over $1 million. Although a portion of this money will be reimbursed by the state, East Hampton Town will be required to provide the up front payments for the assessment company.
McGintee plans to broach the subject of an East Hampton Town assessment at the second East Hampton Town board work session with the other members of the board. The meeting will be held in mid-January. He also would like to educate them on the process of an assessment. Meanwhile, McGintee plans to gather more information on exactly how an assessment will affect members his constituency.
Despite funding worries and possible public resistance, McGintee said, “We will find a way of getting [this assessment] done.”
Map above illustrates potential changes in assessments for specific property for specific properties on the East Hampton Town side of Sag Harbor Village.