Equal Time: Here is a true assessment of the record

I would first like to introduce myself; my name is Mason Haas and I am one of the three Riverhead Town assessors. After reading last week’s Guest Spot article titled “Here’s a better approach to assessing taxes,” written by Riverhead Town Democratic Committee member Vasso Patrikis, I believe a response from our office is warranted to give a better understanding of how the assessor’s office assists town property owners. I feel I am the best one to respond because I have been Ms. Patrikis’s next-door neighbor for 26 years and was personally involved in her grievance at the Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR) hearing.

The job of an assessor is often misconstrued. We do not assess the taxes; we simply determine the market value of property and homes in a normal real estate market, and as everyone knows we are currently far from a normal market. Not only do we assess for market value, but we also approve Real Property tax exemptions such as the Star, Senior, and Agriculture exemptions, as per New York State law. The property taxes imposed are a result of the budgets to operate the town, schools, fire, and other special districts, and are not part of the assessor’s duty.

The author of the article goes on to discuss her experience grieving her property assessment. I believe she put forth some misconceptions in the process, so allow me to explain it further. I would first like to say that every property owner has the right to file a grievance if they feel their property assessment is too high. We are here to help you and urge you to come in and speak to us directly. The steps that you may follow are such:

• Come in and sit down with an assessor. We encourage this as we have an open-door policy and are here to assist the property owner. If we are unable to decrease your assessment after looking at all the data, you may present it to the BAR.

• The Board of Assessment Review is a “bi-partisan” board that is independent of the assessors. We encourage property owners to file an appeal with them.

The author stated she submitted her paperwork and said our office “turned me down flat.” Ms. Patrikis never came and spoke to one of us, skipping over that vital first step. We will do all in our power to help out property owners. She, instead, went right to the BAR, a board that is chaired by a fellow political party member of Ms. Patrikis’ and they turned her down, not the assessor’s office. A letter was then sent to Ms. Patrikis from the BAR, not from the assessor’s office.

“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.” This is a direct quote from her article. If Ms. Patrikis had asked to meet with an assessor we would have gladly done so. Our office has never denied any property owner a meeting and we never will. Ms. Patrikis did have a conversation with an assessor previously, but it was simply to discuss her exemptions.

Had Ms. Patrikis come into our office I would have most likely been the one she met with. I would have reviewed her file and her data and told her that:

• She made no adjustments on the sales she used as she claimed in her article.

• What she submitted was not an appraisal. It was simply a letter from a realtor stating, “I am not a certified appraiser; this is only an opinion based on recent sales.” No appraisal was submitted, as Mrs. Patrikis claimed.

• One of the recent real estate sales she references in her column was an estate sale and was sold as is, as advertised in the listing. Another sold without a kitchen, and the second bath was without a commode and sink. This, again, was as advertised. Only one sale was a legitimate sale.

Mrs. Patrikis continues in her article by writing, “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.” That statement is simply untrue. After the BAR denied the author, she filed for a SCAR hearing. It is at this time the assessor’s office had the first opportunity to review and work up fair and honest adjustments for differences, similar to an appraiser. As to the so-called 90 percent settlement, she was offered an 8.9 percent reduction at the hearing, and even admitted “I was delighted to settle…”, as the reduction given was truly warranted after presenting all of the data.

As to the author claiming Supervisor Sean Walter inserted himself into her particular case to further some sort of party-line agenda is just completely absurd. In no way, shape or form do politics ever come into play in our office. We assess all property owners fairly, and I can assure you, the taxpaying property owners of Riverhead, we will never ask for, or care about, your party affiliation when trying to help you save money in these tough economic times. We work for the taxpayers, not for any political party.

Mr. Haas is a Riverhead Town assessor and was elected as a Republican.