Today is Assessment Grievance Day in most towns in Sullivan County, as well as most of New York state (with the exception of a handful of downstate counties that have a different schedule.) This is my third year sitting on my town’s Board of Assessment Review, and this year I’m chairing it. The BAR in my town is comprised of five people appointed by the town supervisor for five year terms. It’s a pretty representative group, including a grandmother, a farmer, a church organist and a realtor (me).
Grievance Day is a pretty long day. The law requires that we have both afternoon and evening sessions, so someone who works during the day has an opportunity to present their case. So today in my town we’ll have a 2 hour session from 3 to 5 and then an evening session from 6 to 8. The town assessor is present at the hearing, but not as a member of the BAR. She’s there to provide testimony for the assessor side. In fact, contrary to what many people think, the BAR is totally independent of the assessor. When we deliberate to reach decisions (which doesn’t happen on the hearing date, but the following day), the assessor is not in the room and does not know our decisions until she receives the final paperwork. Unlike a property owner, who can appeal our decision to small claims or supreme court, the assessor does not have an appeal.
One thing that many plaintiffs are surprised about is that the property owner (or their designated representative) and the assessor can reach an agreement (called a stipulation) at the hearing, If they do, then the BAR doesn’t have to rule on the grievance. That’s not uncommon.
Some people submit their grievance paperwork prior to grievance day, but a lot of people don’t. So we’re never sure how many walk-ins there will be. Some years there could be a half dozen, other years more. If a grievance has been submitted ahead of time, the assessor has time to prepare her arguments. But with walk ins, the assessor can be caught ‘off guard’ and requests an adjournment of that grievance so she can do some research. The adjournment date is within a week, but it can delay a ruling. Likewise, sometimes a plaintiff presents an incomplete case, or one that needs some additional documentation. In that case the BAR can request that the plaintiff gather and present some additional information.
The deliberations of the BAR aren’t public, only our rulings are. But I’m always struck by the thoughtfulness that goes into those rulings. We might discuss a single grievance for a half an hour or more before we take a vote. We often start out with differing opinions, but one thing I really appreciate about the BAR I sit on is that we really listen to each other.