January 21, 2011

9,714 Filings in 2010 Exceed 2009’s Record by Almost 4,000

In another potential blow to the property tax base of Westchester County, a record number of appeals of local denials of tax grievances have been received by the Westchester County Clerk’s Office.  In 2010, 9,714 appeals were received by the County Clerk, easily eclipsing 2009’s 5,772 filings.   The appeals, officially known as Small Claims Assessment Reviews (“SCARs”), are filed when the local city, town or village grievance board formally rejects a grievance by a property owner.

“These grievances are having a tremendous negative effect on local tax rolls”, said County Clerk Timothy C. Idoni.  ”Every reduction in the assessment rolls must be made up with an equivalent reduction in spending or increase in either property tax or some other revenue stream.   It is, in a sense, a haphazard revaluation or correction of the tax base. ”

The budgetary impact of the recession on municipalities traditionally trails behind by eighteen months or more according to a report by the National League of Cities released in October, 2010.   This is in part due to a reduction in the assessment roll resulting from successful tax grievances.   In Westchester, reduced home values lowering assessment rolls combined with little or no development growth to offset these reductions, will now hit local municipal budgets hard.

In years when real estate values are growing or stable, relatively few appeals are filed.  From 2001 through 2005, the Westchester County Clerk’s Office received 3,954 filings in total, or an average of 791 each year.  The number of filings began to climb in 2006 as follows:


Click here for a breakdown of SCAR filings by municipality.

The monumental increase toward the end of the decade is based on a number of factors: 

The recession: Declining incomes and the loss of jobs has forced Westchester residents to look for ways to alleviate the financial pressure created by rising property tax bills.

Declining Real Estate Values: As home values drop, homeowners begin to question whether their tax assessment is fair.

Rising Tax Rates: As property taxes increase, home owners look for options to make ends meet other than selling their homes.

Professional Help: While the filing of a tax grievance has always been a legal outlet for reducing a tax assessment, real estate professionals often contact homeowners offering to oversee the process.  The standard commission for their service is fifty percent of the net tax savings accrued in the first year through a successful appeal.  There is generally no charge or just a small filing fee for an unsuccessful appeal.

For more information on the Small Claims Assessment Review process, visit www.WestchesterClerk.com, choose “Legal Division” and then “SCAR Petitions” or call (914) 995-3070.  The Westchester County Clerk is the Clerk for the Supreme Court where Small Claim Assessment Review petitions are heard.