The town of Homer, assessor and a review board will head to court Nov. 26 to seek the dismissal of a lawsuit against the town challenging the property tax assessment of properties owned by gas station chain Speedway, seeking a 90% reduction.
“I think it’s a fair assessment in my estimation,” said Fred Forbes, the town supervisor. “It is my understanding that the assessor and the town council has done everything that has been required.”
Speedway claims in its lawsuit that the assessments for six parcels are excessive. The town assessed the parcels at a total of a little more than $1.72 million, but Speedway is stating that it should be about 10% of that, about $172,000.
Lowering the assessment would shift that amount of the company’s tax burden to all taxable properties in town. Based on combined village, town, county and school tax rates totaling $44.99 per $1,000 assessed property value in 2019, a successful challenge would reduce the estimated property tax bill to about $7,700 from $77,500.
One of the properties in dispute, located at 31 S. West St., which was previously a Sunoco Gas Station and is now owned by Speedway, is valued at just over $1 million but according to court documents the company said it estimates the assessment should be just over $100,000.
Homer Assessor Brian Fitts said Tuesday if that was the case, he and some friends could buy the property, but he knows the company would never sell it at that price.
“To me, that’s a ridiculous claim on a grievance form,” he said.
Attorneys for Speedway, based in Garden City on Long Island, could not be reached for comment.
However, the company gave a number of other reasons the assessment should be lowered in the court documents, including that the property is wholly or partially exempt and that isn’t indicated on the assessment roll and that the property cannot be identified from the “description or the tax map number …”
Fitts said the Board of Assessment Review requested on May 28 the company provide more information to support its claims, but the company did not do that.
“We gave them ample time to respond,” Fitts said, about 30 days, before dismissing the claims.
Speedway decided to take the case to State Supreme Court in Cortland County.
“Their hope is to negotiate some kind of reduction in the assessment,” Fitts said. “We as the town of Homer are trying to resist that and say enough is enough because this happens all over the state. To me, it’s about what’s fair and equitable and they wouldn’t be paying their fair share.”
The town wants the case dismissed on the basis of state property tax law because “Speedway willfully neglected and/or refused to appear before the town of Homer Board of Assessment Review and to answer questions related to its real property tax grievance complaints,” according to court documents.
“We’re confident that we have done everything right,” Fitts said.
Fitts said the outcome could affect cases elsewhere.
“It kind of paves the way for other frivolous attempts to reduce assessments and that becomes a problem for the state not just the town of Homer,” he said.