By Robert Pascoal
There is a fundamental difference between policy and politics. Politics is when what you do is motivated by how you can better the members of your party. Policy is when you are motivated to improve the general good of people regardless of party. I’ve always believed in policy over politics. Policy that benefits all people.
That leads me to the subject of reassessment. Is reassessment policy or politics? Some would have you believe expressing your opinion to City Council against reassessment is political. One councilmember referred to my opinion as “vengeful desires.” I disagree. Reassessment and how it is implemented is public policy because it affects everyone in the city. It affects property owners, business owners, and renters.
I would like there to be no confusion as to where I stand on the policy of reassessment, so I submit to you, the residents and taxpayers of Niagara Falls, the following comments I made in open Council on September 6, 2016, which appear on the public record.
Real property assessment is New York State law. But I am vehemently against the reassessment this administration is proposing.
Most people are against this reassessment because they already pay an outrageous amount in taxes compared to the value of their property. And they’re right.
I am against reassessment because I don’t trust the true intentions of this administration.
Reassessment is an extremely powerful process. Reassessment, in the right hands could easily increase the value of every piece of property in this city. In the wrong hands, we could see property taxes soar, property values plummet and families selling off their homes, as homeowners get fed up and move away.
There is uncertainty under the current system. That’s because we have two variables. There’s assessed value, then there’s the tax rate. Adjust this one up. Do a little math over here. It’s a juggling act and we don’t know if and when the city is going to change one of the balls midstream.
Uncertainty is not good for markets. Uncertainty scares away potential buyers because people don’t like for their capital to be at risk. The result is flat or decreasing property values.
If the intention of this administration is to establish the assessed value of a piece of property based on what that property actually sold for, AND with its next breath would drastically reduce the tax rate, the result would be an incredible increase in property value. This would trigger a bidding war for Niagara Falls real estate, resulting in higher revenues based on higher property value.
Our housing stock is crumbling all around us. It will take new construction to replace it. Not the affordable housing type that pays no taxes yet demands all city services. We need new private construction and that won’t make any financial sense until we fix our property tax structure.
Sadly, I fear the intention of this administration is to use this powerful tool to plug serious budget gaps, which it alone has created and expects all of us to cure.
Will you vote to increase taxes, making it harder for new home buyers to afford a decent home in a decent neighborhood?
I’d like to close with a quote I came across just yesterday. It’s by astronomer, astrophysicist, skeptic and critical thinker, Carl Sagan. Remember how he used to say “Billions and Billions”?
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozler has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
I have been bamboozled many times by this administration. I believe reassessment is nothing more than a money grab. I urge you to stand with us against this scheme until it is clear what the administration’s true intentions are.
In closing, I’d like to add that reassessment is policy. And policy drives behavior. Under our current system, you get punished for improving your property. When you get reassessed because you fixed your place up by adding siding, a roof, some windows or a new driveway, you get punished for it. The only time your property should go up is if you add new square footage and a little bump each year to deal with inflation. That’s it. We don’t need to pay an out-of-town, mathematical magician $800,000 out of our budget to tell us what our houses are worth. You, a ready, willing, and able buyer, and free market forces will figure out what your house is worth when an offer to buy is accepted.
Robert Pascoal is a candidate for Niagara Falls City Council