Niagara Gazette

March 16, 2013

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: Assessing the situation on the Island

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Taxpayers — Monday morning citizens bound for opening ceremonies of our semi-semi-centennial Whine and Wheeze Fest, a/k/a assessment protests, beat a path down Whitehaven Road. A police car parked discreetly near a cemetery, only to provide guidance, we are sure.

Our current assessments date back 27 years, to about the time we purchased our current humble abode (not that humble, the appraisers figured.) It’s not waterfront property, but if our neighbors have both their front and back shades up, we do have a view of the river. For the old assessment figure, you might get a lean-to with shared bath under an I-190 overpass.

A mailing last week bespoke intent to nearly double the assessment. The fine print suggests this will result in a noticeably lower tax bill. How can they up the assessment and lower the taxes?

Here’s how it works. Let’s say, just for ease of computation, that our beloved government “needs” $10 million in property tax revenue. And let’s say, also for ease of computation, that the whole of our island paradise is assessed at $10 million. If everybody puts in $1 for every dollar of assessment, the “need” is met.

But if all the property is reassessed at $20 million, then half a buck per dollar will cover it, as the need remains the same. Evidently, then, many properties have incurred greater increases than ours. If ours are less, somebody else’s have to be higher. Three pleasant gentlemen, Mainlanders all, we believe, sat at separate stations in the dreary room, meeting place of the River Lea Quilters, with patient authority hearing all our pleas. Reviews were mixed:

“We think we made a good start,” one prosperous-looking young couple told the waiting queue.

“Complete waste of our time, they just told us to shut up and pay,” an older couple groused.

Our own complaint is complicated, based on a rezoning issue. It took a while, and some grainy photography, but the gentleman in the blue suit eventually understood. We could almost literally see the light go on but we balked at setting our own assessment. Way above our pay grade.

The thing is, though, if our assessment goes down, somebody else’s will have to go up, or, if they all go down, the tax rate will increase and we’ll still wind up paying the same.

It’s becoming, forgive us, a cottage industry. At least one of the attorneys we’ll admit to knowing has added “tax assessments” to his shingle of services.

Surely assessments will be Topic A, gaining priority even over war stories, at the VFW corned beef dinner beginning at 4 this afternoon, both a wearing and a swearing of the green. We’ll let you know how it turns out.

On another on-going matter, at least one Mianland liquor store has Maker’s Mark at a considerable markdown.

Come visit. These are taxing times.

Polly and DougE-mail