Increased Buffalo property assessments draw fear and anger

Sep 20, 2019

The City of Buffalo mailed new property assessments to every homeowner, along with estimated new property tax bills for 2020. With them came concerns, fear and anger. A lot of people showed up for a meeting at the Central Library Thursday night to ask questions...and maybe vent.

Government processes don't always do what they were expected to do. The city-wide reassessment isn't necessarily going to lead to higher taxes, although higher assessments often lead to higher taxes.

When all assessments rise that should mean taxes will stay around the same. Of course, some areas are being hit very hard by the increases, like Allentown. Jonathan White is the Allentown Association's delegate to the Buffalo Property Tax Coalition. White said a neighbor faces serious problems because of an assessment six times higher than his current assessment.
 

Sample property tax bill for City of Buffalo homeowners.
Credit File Photo / Cityof Buffalo

"He pays all of his bills, but he inherited that home from his parents, who inherited it from their parents," White said. "He is the third generation in the house, absolutely not rich, but he's been working hard to maintain the home and pay his bills. Now, because his home will go from an assessment of $58,000 to $365,000, he may be forced out of his home."

There are others who are living in generational homes. Cynthia Marshall said she knows someone who isn't physically capable of going to one of the informal or formal hearing challenges to the new assessments.

"One lady bought her home in the Medical Corridor for $5,000 back before 1980 and didn't do any work on the home since the '70s," Marshall said. "So who would be able to speak for her?"

PUSH Buffalo organizer John Washington said homeowners in the group's heartland on the West Side are facing major increases in assessments and taxes.

"Our average reassessment was a 305% increase and, the truth is, most of our base can't afford that, in any way, shape or form," Washington said. "We are working through PUSH Green to actually improve their homes, but most of their homes haven't changed in the last 30 years and so to ask them to pay three times more when they get no value is just absurd to me and is either going to lead to mass poverty or mass displacement."

Washington said PUSH is teaching people how to work through the challenging appeals system and the group is getting literature about the reval translated into many of the myriad languages of Buffalo's West Side.

Thursday's meeting was a full house.
Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

The president of the company which did the reval said an appeal can come in several ways, including email. Joseph Emminger was there to take questions and admitted some of what to do is political.

"We were the valuation portion. As was alluded to earlier, you're gonna go to the Common Council and your're gonna make your case for some exemptions," Emminger said. "Our project was an evaluation project, not a taxation project. We said that at numerous meetings during the course of the last 2-3 years."

Emminger understands how political this can get because he's also Town of Tonawanda supervisor. In response to numerous questions, Emminger said there is a quick process.

"You have to file the paperwork the whole month of December and the hearings will be held in January," he said. "The Assessor's office will give you a time and date that you have to show up. You'll get roughly 10 minutes for an informal. The informal's 10-minutes long. The Board of Assessment Review is less time. You only get 5 minutes."

Emminger said people who can't attend the appeals meetings have several ways to get their appeal heard.

"They come in and they say, 'I'm here to talk about 123 Main Street. I'm representing Mrs. So and So. She's my neighbor. She's my aunt.' We will listen to what they have to say," he said. "The other alternative is if they can't get somebody to represent them, they can always mail it in. They can mail in the information to us."