Editor, The Spotlight;
Under the town’s reassessment, all vacant parcels, whether they are an acre or one hundred acres, are being valued as a building lot.
In other words, GAR, the reassessment consultant, placed a value on the first .2 acre of vacant land of approximately $50,000. The reasoning is, that this parcel of land is considered a building lot, and the most valuable part of it is that portion which would sit under a house. Only problem is — there’s no house.
If vacant land is just vacant and no one has applied to construct anything on it, then why can’t it be valued as vacant land until such time as it begins through the building process? If that huge chunk of assessment regarding the house site were removed, then the land would be valued closer to its current use —vacant. Just look at the tax rolls for New Scotland and Coeymans. You will see that their vacant land is valued as vacant and not as a giant building lot. Now, when a building permit is issued to build on a parcel, the town can change the value of the land at that time because it would be having another use besides VACANT. The assessment would be then reflective of the new current use.
After talking to the Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS), they have directed me to two points:
First is that Uniform Assessment Standards are to guide assessments. The website clearly notes that “The standards are advisory in nature.” As you read this guide, you see that vacant lands may (not must) be valued at highest and best use, for which GAR has assigned a building lot to these VACANT lands.
Second are the Opinions of Counsel. These indicate that assessment approaches for vacant land can be attributed to current use not only highest and best use.
Based upon these two representations from the ORPTS and this town putting such emphasis on keeping the rural character of the town, the Town Board needs to do what is right for our town. The Board is choosing to allow this valuation method to be done. Yes, there is a choice here! The Town Board can and should pass a resolution that assessed values of rural vacant lands will reflect their current use. By assessing them at their current, vacant use, you are still giving them 100 percent value for the assessment rolls, putting everyone at 100 percent, and making valuations more reflective of current use. This is an option that they are aware of and have so far chosen not to act upon.
The Town Board professes how valuable the town’s rural character is, however when it comes to valuing Rural Vacant lands as building lots, one wonders why their actions push us away from rural and towards building lots. So the question for Bethlehem remains — Vacant Land or Building Lots?