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Politicians, apartment owners renew call for property tax reform

TimesLedger Newspapers

As northeast Queens co-op and condo owners awaited the new round of assessments to be released by the city this week, elected officials rallied to their side in a bid to reform the property tax system.

The owners were shocked last year when the city Department of Finance released its tentative assessment rolls and some of their buildings’ taxable values had increased substantially — by as much as triple digits in some cases.

Elected officials and community members joined forces, and Finance eventually claimed it was a computer glitch that resulted in erroneous assessments.

“It’s good to see the team back together again,” state Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) said at a news conference last Thursday, standing alongside state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and several co-op owners outside the Bay Country co-ops.

In response to the controversy, the state Legislature passed a law limiting tax increases to 10 percent over the next two years, but Braunstein said a bill introduced to place a permanent cap of 6 percent fell by the wayside after the city objected to it.

Finance was scheduled to release this year’s tentative roll this week and in advance Braunstein and Stavisky called for Commissioner David Frankel, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) to reach an agreement on a way to value co-ops that would provide “fairness and predictability” to property owners.

“Everybody’s saying the right things, but there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency to get things done,” he said. “Unfortunately, any solution coming from Albany will require an agreement with the mayor and the City Council. Therefore, [Stavisky and I] will join with our constituents in urging the mayor to support changes that bring tax fairness to co-op and condo owners in New York City.”

Quinn said she agreed that the property tax system is in need of urgent reform.

“As we said we would do last year, we are studying reforms that will make the system fairer, more transparent and more rational,” the speaker said. “Given our current fiscal situation, we must approach this in a way that in the near term provides us with the revenues we need to fund government and protects homeowners from abrupt changes in their tax bills.”

A spokesman for the Department of Finance wrote in an e-mail, “There are no easy answers when it comes to reforming the property tax, and we continue to work with our partners in the Council and the Legislature to find solutions that balance the interests of all property owners.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Co-op and condo owners framed the need for reform as a social issue.

“For too many years now, co-ops in New York City have virtually been a cash cow for the city of New York. Mayors take the monies received from property taxes to balance the budget. The burden falls on the middle class,” said Warren Schreiber, of the Presidents Co-op/Condo Council. “Eventually, middle-class housing will no longer be middle-class.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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