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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wheeler Files New Assessments


5/4/2006 - BEMUS POINT — It’s official.DeaAnna Wheeler, assessor for four towns in central Chautauqua County, filed the 2006 assessment roll Friday despite repeated requests not to from town officials.‘‘I intend to go with it. Bill stands by it,’’ Ms. Wheeler said, referring to Bill Morrill, county real property services director. ‘‘The state certainly stands by it, too.’’Aside from changes made through the appeals process, the assessment roll now carries with it the force of law unless the state intervenes.‘‘Nothing can happen at this point unless for an act of the state Legislature,’’ Morrill said.The assessment roll for the four towns she assesses — Ellery, North Harmony, Gerry and Stockton — has been called into question due to unprecedented increases in the assessed value of some residents’ property in each town, except for Stockton.In one year, townwide assessments climbed 16.4 percent in Ellery, 24.8 percent in North Harmony and 7.8 percent in Gerry. In comparison, the increases in 2005 were 3.7, 3.4 and 5.3 percent, respectively.It’s not everyone who’s been affected, though — most assessments in the three other towns remained unchanged or rose only slightly. The dramatic increases in Ellery and North Harmony were mostly driven by the soaring value of waterfront property along Chautauqua Lake — leaving lakefront property owners with the threat of tax bills double or triple what they usually get.In response, many residents demanded Ms. Wheeler be fired and this year’s assessments be erased. Town officials did request they be frozen, but not simply because their constituents wanted it.‘‘We had heard several accounts that there are severe inequities in the assessment roll,’’ Pierre Chagnon, Ellery Town Board member, told The Post-Journal two weeks ago. ‘‘It wasn’t the emotion of the situation. It was numerous examples that leads one to wonder.’’Ms. Wheeler refused, in part because it wouldn’t be fair for other residents. She said most property owners — 75 percent in North Harmony, for instance — would receive a tax decrease if municipal spending remained the same.‘‘I’m disappointed the board is listening to the minority rather than the majority,’’ she said.Residents in that minority, though, have expressed their fears that higher property taxes might drive them from their homes.Their hopes have now fallen on the town-appointed Board of Assessment Review, which decides whether residents’ assessments should be lowered. Grievance Day, as it is called, will be held from 2 to 8 p.m. on May 23 for Ellery residents, May 24 for North Harmony residents and May 25 for Gerry residents.Though town officials have indicated their intent to request the state Legislature erase this year’s assessments, Morrill said residents should not count on it.‘‘I certainly don’t endorse doing away with the rolls and I certainly don’t endorse delaying the rolls,’’ he said. ‘‘The problem is people think they don’t have to go to Grievance Day.’’Any resident appealing his or her assessment must obtain the appropriate complaint form — form RP-524 — from the assessor’s office in Bemus Point.

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