Hamburg homeowners unite to battle property taxes

Reassessment leads to steep increases for unfinished development

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Steep tax increases after a county-mandated reassessment prompted several residents from the Fairways at Wallkill River condominium complex to voice their concern at Monday night’s Borough Council meeting.

Bluffs Court resident Jeffrey Carroll was the first to speak on behalf of the struggling community members, who saw their property taxes rise an average of nearly 25 percent between 2013 and 2014.

“This tax increase will have a devastating effect on both current residents and future sales,” Carroll read from a prepared statement. “We welcome a good-faith discussion with the town about tax relief.”

Carroll, who moved into the under-construction development in 2011, saw his property taxes jump from about $9,300 to $12,100. The largest one-year increase in the 23-home development was just more than $4,000 — a 46 percent increase from their 2013 tax burden.

What’s worse, Carroll continued, is that the development residents are footing the bill for snow removal and road maintenance as the development is still under construction. In addition to the 23 occupied homes, there are two currently under construction. Plans call for a total of 67 single-family residences in the development, construction of which started in 2005.

“We feel like we’re paying taxes and not getting services,” Carroll said.

Councilman Mark Sena took offense to the statement.

“If there is a fire in your development tonight,” he said, “who is going to put it out? If there is a crime, who is going come out to help?”

Mayor Paul Marino also disagreed with the lack of services statement, and advised the Bluffs Court residents that the developer is at fault for their paving and winter maintenance woes.

“Until a street is turned over to the town, the town can’t touch it,” he said.

The raised manholes throughout the development due to low pavement levels create a liability for the borough as the Department of Public Works trucks can easily cause or be damaged. The developer has no cause to pave until construction is complete, as heavy-duty equipment can easily damage pavement.

Carroll offered a solution.

“As far as I can tell,” he said, “you guys have the power to reimburse [for plowing and maintenance].

He added that he understands the liability, but “it doesn’t excuse the double taxation.”

Borough Attorney Richard Clemack advised Carroll that reimbursement was not an option, but offered another solution.

“All of you have a remedy,” he said. “Meet with the tax assessor and avail yourself of your rights.” Should one resident in the development win a tax appeal, he added, others would likely benefit from the windfall.

In addition, Marino said he would make a phone call and write a letter to the developer “to put some pressure” on him to get something done with the development.

Not just the Bluffs

Council members echoed the frustration of Carroll and the Bluffs residents.

“It’s like we’re living parallel lives,” Councilman Dan Barr said. His home assessment went up about $80,000, he announced. While he didn’t say what that meant for his total property taxes, it must equate to a steep incline, as Bluffs residents who saw a $10,000 increase in assessed value saw a nearly $3,000 increase with the new 3.637 percent tax rate.

“It’s the same for everyone,” Marino said, “and it’s a problem.”

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