Updated: 04/18/2014 9:42 AM
Created: 04/17/2014 11:48 PM WNYT.com
By: Dan Levy
BETHLEHEM - What would you do if your assessed property value all of a sudden shot up 500 percent or more and you didn't have the money to pay the extra taxes? For several dozen Bethlehem property owners on Thursday night, they decided to fight back.
About three dozen demonstrators marched outside the Milestone Restaurant on Route 9W, where inside many town officials were attending a political fundraising dinner.
The people holding protest signs say they're overwhelmed and under attack.
"We're not going to back off," declared Glen Lashen, a 70-year-old who owns 75 acres of land that have been in his family since the beginning of the Civil War -- land where the reassessed value has gone up 266 percent, and property that he believes wasn't reassessed properly or professionally.
"(The assessors) didn't walk the property," he said. "They admitted they didn't walk the property."
The game plan for Lashen and fellow demonstrators was to remind town officials that their recent reassessments were unacceptable, arbitrary and unfair.
"As landowners, we always trusted our town government," said Keith Wiggand, whose property has been in his family for generations, but says he might not be able to afford the hefty half million dollar assessment increase.
"What this is going to cause," Wiggand stated, "is the disappearance of a lot of green space because trees are going to be cut down. There'll be a disappearance of a lot of green space because landowners are going to be forced to sell."
Valerie Newell is a lifelong town resident who feels her 53 acres could be in jeopardy -- and she knows she's not alone.
"We have a lot of senior citizens that they don't know where they're going to get the money for these taxes," Newell said. "They're overwhelmed with this process."
Part of the process was a series of town hall meetings on April 3 when a representative from GAR, the company hired to do the reassessment, explained the process and offered residents advice on how to file a grievance if they're not happy with their assessed property value.
"The fact is that many of those properties may have been under assessed in the past," said Town Supervisor John Clarkson. "I'm sorry and I recognize that's a bitter pill for them to swallow but look at the other side of it. That means the rest of the taxpayers have been paying more than their fair share."
The property owners had a chance to confront Rep. Paul Tonko about their problem as he entered the fundraiser, but they'd really like to see another political leader step up to the plate for them.
"If the governor can make a phone call to Mr. Clarkson, I'm sure we would have a little time to negotiate this thing and I really appeal to the governor," Wiggand said.
There is a mechanism in place for property owners to appeal their assessment. The town has a Grievance Day scheduled for the fourth Tuesday in May.
Some residents say if they don't get satisfaction from that process, they'll take town officials to court.