October 18, 2021

Taking on taxing issue

Cortland review board fields odd complaint at meeting

Travis Dunn/contributing photographer

City of Cortland Assessor Brian Fitts, left, discusses a tax assessment grievance with the Cortland Board of Assessment Review last week at City Hall.

The property isn’t much of anything: It’s 25 feet wide by 1,000 feet long, with no street access, and the Groton Avenue Plaza parking lot on one side and the backs of people’s houses on Glenn Street on the other.

It was going for 10 bucks at a Cortland County tax auction in 2018. Chris Perrine put up his hand. Sold.

Then the costs set in: The property was assessed at $11,000, and the combined tax bill of city, Cortland County and Cortland Enlarged City School District meant the tax bill would approach $570. He decided to challenge the assessment last week.

Perrine’s was one of more than nine property assessments considered at the annual meeting June 12. Three property owners showed up in person; six contested assessment cases came in by mail.

Perrine had previously bought properties at public auction, and made out OK. But if there is any possible use for this weird little strip of land, he has yet to find it.

“I wracked by brain trying to figure out what I could do with it,” Perrine said. “Maybe there’s someone smarter than me who can figure something to do with it, but I can’t think of anything.”

The only thing it seems to be good for is collecting trash that blows off the parking lot next door.

When he got the assessment, Perrine’s jaw dropped and he wrote a letter explaining his situation to Brian Fitts, Cortland’s tax assessor.

“The whole thing is ridiculous,” Perrine said.

Last week, Fitts read Perrine’s letter to the city Board of Assessment Review during its annual tax grievance hearing.

“It’s worthless, really,” Fitts said, which he couldn’t believe became a parcel in the first place.

“You can’t even pitch a tent on it,” said board member Connie Sorrells.

Perrine’s case was one of the mail-in grievances. Contacted by phone, Perrine said he didn’t know that he could have showed up in person.

Yet property owners who want to contest an assessment should show up even earlier in the process, Fitts said. The first stop is his office, where he can work with property owners to address their concerns.

By the time the annual grievance hearing comes around, options are more limited, he said, and the result is out of his hands.

All contested assessments go before the board members, who consider the evidence, then vote on whether to change the assessment. Fitts acts as an adviser, but he has no say over the outcome. Regarding Perrine’s strip of land, he estimated the value at $1,000, based on the size and utility — or lack of utility — of the property.

The board considered the evidence and voted 4-0 to lower the assessment to $1,000. This would leave Perrine with an annual tax bill of about $52.

Perrine isn’t sure what he’ll do. He said he considered selling the property to adjacent residents, some of whom have expressed interest, but he suspected the legal cost would be prohibitive.

“But I’m not paying a lawyer to do all that,” he said.

Ultimately, he said, it’s up to the city to figure out what to do with it, so he may just not pay the tax on it and let it revert back to city ownership.