Property owners concerned about assessment increases

Homes are seen on the John Brown Road Tuesday, May 9. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — Tentative property assessment rolls show that residential property values in Lake Placid have increased by around 18% this year. Overall, the town and village’s taxable property values have increased by 16%, or $438.9 million.

Todd Anthony, the town of North Elba’s assessor, said his office’s phone has been ringing off the hook since the tentative rolls were recently posted. People have been calling him worried, upset and concerned — mainly by the idea that their taxes could increase by the same percentage that their property’s assessed value has increased. But that’s not the case, according to Anthony. Assessment values aren’t taxes — taxes are based on assessment values.

The property taxes a homeowner pays start with the budgets adopted in their local school district, municipality and county by their school boards, town and village boards, and county legislature. When those boards adopt a budget, they determine how much they’ll collect in property taxes from local taxpayers — called a tax levy — for that fiscal year.

How much boards can increase a tax levy from one year to the next is determined by a state-issued tax cap, which is the percentage of allowable increase in taxes collected — usually around 2%. Anthony expects that increase to sit closer to 3% with new budgets this year.

Properties in Lake Placid are assessed each year to keep property assessments in line with their market value. Assessed property values move along with tax levies, Anthony said, so when assessed values and tax levies rise together, property taxes remain more stable. When property assessment values increase at a faster pace than tax levies — like they are now — tax rates generally go down.

Broadly speaking, Anthony said that if a residential property’s assessment increased this year by more than the average increase in taxable value for the town and village — around 15 to 16% — that property might net an increase in taxes. If a homeowner’s assessment increased by a percentage equal to or below the average increase, Anthony said, they might see no change or a decrease in their taxes, respectively.

Here’s a real-life example: A home in the town of North Elba and within the school district that was valued at $300,000 last year likely saw a tax rate of around $11.473 per $1,000 in assessed value and paid around $3,442 in property taxes, according to Anthony. If that same home was reassessed at $354,000 this year — a full 18% increase from the year before — and if the school district and the town both increase their levies by 3% this year, the tax rate for the home would likely decrease to $10.147 per $1,000 in assessed value and net around $3,592 in property taxes. That’s an increase of around $150, or 4.3%, in property taxes from the year before.

Anthony called these “back of the napkin” calculations — it’s hard to know exactly how much someone’s taxes will increase, decrease or whether they’ll stay the same without knowing how much local tax levies will increase. Anthony also said that some of the total value of the tentative rolls might be lost through the assessment grievance process at the end of this month.

Anthony said that if he hadn’t reassessed properties in the town and village this year, the level of assessment could drop from 100% of market value and the state would issue the municipalities an equalization rate to bring their assessments to full market value. If properties weren’t reassessed this year and assessments were only at 88% of their value, it could also be harder for people to determine whether or they’re being taxed fairly.

Why the increase?

The last couple of years have brought a marked increase to property assessments around Lake Placid, which Anthony has largely attributed to the COVID-related real estate market boom. As people sought to escape city life during the height of the pandemic, and as remote work has become more common, the demand for homes has outpaced the supply — more people have been seeking homes here. Last year, residential property assessments rose by around 11%. That was almost double the previous year’s 6% increase.

Anthony said that on average, according to the overall value of this year’s tentative roll, residential property assessment increased by 18% this year; vacant land property values rose by 10%; commercial values went up by 6%; and taxable state-owned lands rose by 10%. That’s across the town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid, which includes the hamlet of Ray Brook and parts of the village of Saranac Lake.

Anthony said that many people have also pointed to short-term vacation rentals as a factor for increased assessments, claiming that individuals and investors have bought up properties around Lake Placid, flipped them and turned them into STRs, effectively spiking the value of surrounding homes by proxy of improvement. But right now, Anthony said the effect of STRs on property values is hard to measure without the data to prove every buyer’s intention for their property, and the effect of new STR regulations that went into effect this past January “remains to be seen.”

Anthony said people have speculated that, with more strict STR regulations essentially banning new unhosted rentals — rentals where an owner isn’t required to reside on the property while it’s being rented — in residential areas, property values in residential neighborhoods would decrease. But there’s nearly a year-long delay between when properties are evaluated for a new tentative assessment roll and when that tentative roll is actually released. This year’s tentative rolls are based on property evaluations performed from July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2022. That means this year’s tentative roll isn’t necessarily reflective of the current state of the real estate market, and that the town and village’s newest short-term vacation rental regulations are not reflected in this year’s tentative roll.

What Anthony does know is that there was an increase in recreational property purchases — people who are buying second and third homes around Lake Placid — during the last evaluation period. He said that, as the real estate boom wears on and inventory of properties dwindles, second- and third-home-seekers have been buying up whatever’s available, from properties in “blue collar” residential neighborhoods to more affluent residential areas. In this competitive market, Anthony said these buyers are often willing to pay more than the asking price for homes in less affluent areas, essentially establishing a new market in those neighborhoods. Market values in a neighborhood also go up when homes in these areas are bought and subsequently improved.

North Elba and the town of Keene both saw the biggest increase in residential property values in Essex County — both 18% — according to Anthony.

Grievance process

Assessors are required to hold appointments to hear complaints and comments from people about their assessments. Anthony said these appointments must be made in advance by calling the assessor’s office at 518-523-1975. There are four days available for meetings with Anthony:

– May 9, from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.

– May 11, from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

– May 13, from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m.

– May 16, from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.

People can also grieve their assessments by making an appointment with the Board of Assessment Review, an independent three-person board that evaluates any evidence someone might provide showing that their property was assessed incorrectly. The board will hear grievances on Tuesday, May 23. The board will make a decision to either deny, grant or strike a compromise with each person’s request for a new assessment. If someone still isn’t happy with their assessment value after that, Anthony said, they would take their case to Small Claims Assessment Review.

Learn more about local taxes:

2023 Tentative Assessment Rolls (Essex County)

Essex County Real Property Tax Services

Town of North Elba Assessor’s Office

Town of North Elba Board of Assessment Review

Essex County Parcel Viewer

Tentative Roll Guide (Essex County)

Contesting your assessment in New York state

Assessment Complaint Form

Assessment Complaint Instructions

Starting at $1.44/week.

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