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Reassessment causing angst in Bethlehem

Created: 04/03/2014 11:38 PM WNYT.com
By: Dan Levy

BETHLEHEM - Of the two certainty's in life, hundreds of Bethlehem residents were dealing with taxes on Thursday night, although many of them still seemed scared to death worrying about how they're going to pay for a town-wide reassessment.

Of the 13,000 parcels of land in the town, 10,000 are residential, and even though the town supervisor says most of those homeowners will see their property taxes go down after a community-wide reassessment, clearly there is plenty of concern, especially after residents began opening their reassessment letter in the mail.

It's a changing landscape in Bethlehem that's left many property owners in the weeds. The town's first full reassessment project in eight years has created so much angst in the community that hundreds of residents filled town hall Thursday night for two separate informational meetings.

"We understand it's an emotional topic," said David Barnett, a real estate appraiser from GAR Associates, who was leading the seminar. "It's not very popular and there are a lot of anxious people."

Barnett's job was to explain the reassessment process and reassure residents that they have options if they're not happy with the value placed on their properties -- and there were plenty of unhappy residents.

"I need to take on a second job for the property tax alone," says Amy Musiker, who says she's physically in pain after seeing her property assessment increase 100%. "I can't get 750 days of work into one year. I can't afford it. I simply can't afford it.What angered me about this is that coming out of the horrible winter where our electricity costs have gone up 50%."

Jennifer Gallagher says her primary property assessment is double the town average -- and that's the good news.

"I also have a vacant parcel next to me and that was increased by 300%," Gallagher said.

But 300% sounds pretty good from where Linda Jasinski stands.

"One piece of property went up 500%," Jasinski beefed. "I felt like I was sucker punched. I was like, "Oh my God, I can't believe this."

While conceding that reassessments are not easy to go through, Bethlehem Supervisor John Clarkson says three out of four residential home owners will see their taxes decrease.

"Some business properties are going up and some are going down," according to Clarkson, a democrat, "The vacant land we know is going up, but the problem there, as we are finding out, is that we never really valued it properly in the past."

That was one of the things conveyed to the residents, many of whom say they came away with a better understanding of the overall process.

"I think it's helpful to be able to go and air your grievance, being armed with this information and knowing how to argue it intelligently," Gallagher said.

As part of the reassessment project, residents have until April 17th to have their informal property reviews done. They need to make an appointment to have it done by April 11th.

A Grievance Day is also scheduled for the 4th Tuesday in May.

For more information regarding property reassessments in Bethlehem, you can log onto their website at:

http://www.bethlehem.oarsystem.com

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