Guest Spot: Here’s a better approach to assessing taxes

I am a 77-year-old widow and grandmother of six. I work full time to pay my bills. It takes four months of my salary to pay my Riverhead taxes, even though I get a senior exemption.

I spoke at a Riverhead Town Board meeting last year to request the income limits for the senior exemption be increased to help not only me but all our low-income senior citizens who are opposed to the town’s high taxes. Last year, Supervisor Sean Walter and his Town Board made things worse by voting in a budget that included the highest year-to-year tax increase on Long Island.

When the Town Board meeting was over, I walked behind Mr. Walter as he left the board room and I heard him tell one of his colleagues, “I’m not helping that woman,” in clear reference to me. Mr. Walter knew that I was a member of the Riverhead Democratic Committee. I got the feeling that my request for help was being rejected for that reason.

As it turned out, I believe, my feeling was correct.

I did my homework. I investigated the taxes of more than 30 houses near my own, got statistics on recent sales and adjusted for the differences in the houses. I got an appraisal. I discovered that my humble home had one of the highest assessment rates in my area, considering its value. I submitted all my research to the town assessors for an adjustment and tax reduction. They turned me down flat.

I wondered why the assessors wouldn’t talk to me about the merits of my case. I suspected they had their orders from Mr. Walter not to help me, so I applied to the Riverhead Board of Assessment Review. The board turned me down, too. Then I appealed to the Supreme Court Small Claims Assessment Review Board.

Finally, my appeal went before an independent hearing officer. All the same information I had collected was still in the file. Nothing had changed. Faced with the immediate prospect of a hearing before a truly independent judge, the assessors suddenly offered to settle my case for approximately 90 percent of the highest possible reduction I could have gotten. I was delighted to settle but I cannot help but wonder why the assessors refused to even talk to me earlier, and why Mr. Walter insisted upon inserting himself into my case by indicating he would not help me.

What right does Mr. Walter have to control the actions of the assessors, if that is what indeed happened, as I suspect? Those elected officers should be independent, yet their actions in my case suggest to me they’re taking orders from the supervisor’s office. If they are taking orders, is it because all three assessors and all five Town Board members are Republicans?

I protest Mr. Walter’s arrogance. His statements and actions suggest he thinks he controls all three assessors, and the torturous process of my case suggests he does control them.

I urge the Town Board to raise the income limits for the senior exemption to benefit all seniors, regardless of their political registration, because it’s the right thing to do in these terrible economic times.

I believe a better way for Riverhead would be to have at least one of our three assessors of a different political party. This would ensure the law would be followed and all taxpayers would be treated equally and fairly.

Ms. Patrikis is a teacher’s assistant and Riverhead Town Democratic Committee member. She lives in Jamesport.