Terie Huseby, the Tioga County Director of Real Property, attended the Spencer Town Board meeting on Sept. 14 to support Spencer’s assessor, Michael Maxwell, as he addressed concerns of the board that he should make himself more available to taxpayers. The board has received complaints that Maxwell was in his office infrequently and that he did not answer the phone number he provided.
Maxwell responded by saying that in any tax notice he sends out to residents renewing an exemption or wanting to apply for a new one, he includes a printed notice of dates and times he is in his Spencer office to meet with him. He also includes his personal phone number, which he said he answers 24/7. For those with email he is always available and does respond, he said. He believes he is quite available and argued this point to the town board.
“I always answer my phone,” he declared firmly.
Now that the town board has a new and user-friendly website, Town Clerk Terry MacCheyne volunteered that she could put his available times and phone number and email address on the website for people who might lose the paper notification or anybody else looking for the information. All agreed that would be a good idea. She also said she could post his contact information on the outside bulletin board at the town hall with the times and days he would be in his office here in Spencer.
Huseby also spoke up and said that she is personally available to help anyone needing questions answered as her job is to serve the public. She posts tax rates, sales, and other things on the county’s website for anyone in the community to look up. One of the things Maxwell mentioned, that Huseby affirmed, is that sales of real property are increasing constantly now because of the low interest rates. Maxwell noted that the number of splits in Spencer is rising, as there have been more subdivisions in Spencer recently than there were in the past. (Splits are when a property is subdivided into smaller parcels, such as the former farmland on E. Spencer Road, formerly the Efthimiou farm. Three and one half acres are currently slated to be divided into three parcels, he said.)
Another change that would help Maxwell as the assessor is notifying him when an address change takes place either because someone died or moved. Community members must report these address changes to be sure that tax bills get to the owner at the correct address. Maxwell said his office has to use whatever information is on file. Also, some people do not know that they can not just give property to their children without filling out forms and going through the legal process. Another problem is that if no one is living in the house, various exemptions are removed, such as the STAR exemption for school taxes.
Huseby noted that New York State keeps changing the rules for eligibility for STAR, which causes confusion for all ages. Her contact information is on the county website and she offered to have it on the Spencer website, also. She said that in times of significant confusion or when taxpayers need to speak in person to someone, she would be happy to come out to Spencer as needed.
Maxwell said that one factor driving sales in Spencer is that it is getting too expensive for many people to buy a house or land in Tompkins County. Many are buying property just for recreation. There are also bidding wars among people in northern New York areas and also in New York City itself. Out-of-towners accustomed to much higher prices for property are calling realtors and saying they do not care what a house or piece of land costs. They apparently are willing to go ahead and buy without seeing it in person.
He suggested that the town of Spencer adopt some regulations as it does not have zoning to require some minimum acres before it can split a parcel into smaller chunks. He urged it to think about population density and how much it wants to preserve the rural character of Spencer.
Huseby added that nobody can create a split where one of the properties is landlocked, with no access to the road. She also suggested that one parcel not be divided in such a way that it includes two different school districts within its boundaries. She urged the board to be proactive in order to prevent issues down the road.
She talked about taxes not changing if all properties go up the same amount. As long as the levy stays the same, taxes will not go up; however, historically, one third of properties do go up in taxable value, one third goes down, and the rest stays the same. She also acknowledged that part of the confusion with STAR is that new applications are now received later in the year as a tax credit.
Earlier applicants still receive the tax credit right on their school tax bill. As for senior tax exemptions, anyone entitled to it does not have to renew annually, which is a good thing, she noted.