SUING TOWNS AND TAX ASSESSORS IN PURSUIT OF FAIRNESS
Since 1986, I've spent over $95,000 on 23 separate Supreme Court actions covering over 600 properties whose assessments were unfair and illegal. The several towns have spent probably an equal or greater amount of your tax money in defending unsuccessfully their illegal assessments. (When will they ever learn?) On not one property out of hundreds affected by those actions that have been resolved to date have we failed to secure a substantial and equitable reduction. June 2000 update: We recently agreed to drop our claim on three properties. Our success rate remains better than 99%.
The towns could provide fairness on or before grievance day; the resulting assessments would be the same, and tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayers money would be saved. After more than a decade of failure to preserve unfair assessments when challenged, have they considered this possibility? Apparently not, they are currently throwing more money than ever into this futile effort. (It would be interesting to see the results of a Freedom of Information Act request to the Town of Woodstock for the itemization of expenditures over the last decade for legal and appraisal costs paid by tax dollars in the 7 tax certiorari actions the Town has defended in Ulster County Supreme Court, none of them successfully.)
To be fair and give a balanced picture, let me say that in 1997, the grievance board of Woodstock took an unprecedented action, of our 69 petitions, they granted a fair assessment to 2 properties, so we only have 67 Woodstock properties before the Ulster County Supreme Court. What does it take to get the grievance board to grant fairness? Well, one of these 2 rarities was owned by a decorated veteran; the other had been sold recently by one of the grievance board members, acting as a broker, for little more than half the value assessed.
What's to be done? It's not an easy answer, and the solutions are expensive. Following are some excerpts from a draft of a letter to be sent out August 1997 to our 86 clients in the Town of Hurley, outlining our plans, and citing the laws that we feel the Towns are breaking:
"After many hours of work by my agents and me; over $9,000. in expenses including legal fees; by July 31st all 5 Supreme Court petitions for a total of 232 properties in Hurley, Woodstock, Saugerties, Kingston, and Cairo (Greene County) were completed, served, and filed. . . .
"If we can have our day in Court, we will win fair assessments. The Town's efforts have been focused not on claiming that we are incorrect in our appraisal, but on preventing our petition from being heard, attempting to have our petitions dismissed on various technicalities. Although I have not yet lost an article 7 proceeding, the outcome is never certain in a legal action. Because of this, and because I strongly believe that the Town is acting both unethically and illegally, the following additional measures are being considered: . . .
1. An Article 78 proceeding. This is an action at law
one can use to stop government officials from acting illegally. One of
the things that in my opinion is clearly illegal about your assessments
is that the basis of them in Hurley is not market value as the law requires.
This the Town, by its officials, on the public record, and in the presence
of the town attorney, John Darwak, has admitted. In brief, the questions
raised in this proceeding can be "whether (a) body or officer failed
to perform a duty enjoined upon it by law; or whether (a) body or officer
proceeded . . . without or in excess of jurisdiction; or whether a determination
was made in violation of lawful procedure, was affected by an error of
law or was arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion,. . . or
whether a determination made as a result of a hearing held and at which
evidence was taken . . . is supported by substantial evidence."
2. A Federal Title 42 Chapter 21 Section 1983 action.
This is an action in Federal Court to remedy a violation of your constitutional
rights under the 14th amendment to the Constitution, section 1 which provides:
the state shall not "deny any person . . . the equal protection of
the laws." As an example of how this might apply; if a homeowner in
Hurley were paying, say 35% to 100% more in school taxes than a homeowner
with a home of similar value in Woodstock to support the same school district,
simply because Woodstock assesses in accordance with the law by market
value and Hurley does not, then that Hurley homeowner is being denied his/her
constitutional right to equal protection of the law. I believe that cases
of this order of magnitude of inequity do exist in Hurley, Section 1983
reads in part: "Every person who, under color of any statute. . .
subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen. . . to the deprivation
of any rights privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and
laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law."
If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please email -- I will reply. Thank you.
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