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What’s next, assessor drones?


Flyover data lets Copake reval pick up plenty of untaxed property

COPAKE—Sole Assessor Craig Surprise keeps finding things that are not supposed to be there.

During the town’s current property revaluation process, Mr. Surprise has discovered so much construction that no one bothered to get building permits for, so many discrepancies and errors on the town’s tax rolls and tax maps, he thinks it will take him an additional year to straighten it all out.

“We can’t afford to let this go any further, we’ve got to bring [these under-assessed properties] onto the rolls now. I found one guy who has not paid taxes on a house in 10 years,” Mr. Surprise told the Town Board at its July 11 meeting.

When the town decided to do a revaluatuib, commonly called a “reval,” on its 3,011 properties, Assessor Surprise told the board he could complete the two-year process for somewhere between $70,000 and $80,000. If the town had hired a private firm to conduct the work, the price tag could easily have been $65 to $100/parcel for a minimum cost of $200,000, he told The Columbia Paper in a phone interview this week.

Mr. Surprise started the process in late 2011 and though he has been at it for a year and a half and should be wrapping things up soon, the amount of items that should be on the books but aren’t is so overwhelming it will take another year to sort out.

Mr. Surprise had been using several methods to update the town’s assessment rolls, starting with old-fashioned legwork provided by two data collectors, who visit every property to see what is really there, take pictures and make notes. They each do this two- or three-days-a-week for five to six hours a day, said Mr. Surprise.

He also uses a licensed computer program called, Pictometry. Using Aerial Oblique Imagery, the Pictometry company collects photographic data during airplane flyovers of municipalities. A flyover costs the town $15,000, which it pays in three installments of $5,000 each, said the assessor. The Town of Taghkanic, where Mr. Surprise also serves as sole assessor and which is also undergoing a reval, had the flyover done, he said. Mr. Surprise can then access the image data via an online computer program used by many municipalities. The imagery is organized and searchable by street address, geographic coordinates or geographic information system layer information. (See Mr. Surprise said the program allows him to measure the size of a house or any other structure while he site in the comfort of his office. Most recent data was collected during an April flyover, but there was also a 2006 countywide flyover and he can use that data for comparison purposes along with the town’s existing records.

Mr. Surprise said he cannot even attempt to estimate the amount of additional assessed value he has discovered for the town since he started, but so far this year the figure is $5 million. Among his findings have been two houses, a garage converted into a studio and a swimming pool someone built on someone else’s property. He even found a Copake property that somehow wound up on the tax rolls in Hillsdale.

Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer said in a phone interview that as of now the town has spent about $48,000 on the reval and by the end of the year may have spent up to $60,000 total so far. The costs incurred by the additional year are not yet known, but the overage, if any, is apparently worth it to the town in terms of getting the equalization rate back up to 100%, it is currently 78%, and reclaiming a load of tax revenue.

The board voted unanimously by resolution to authorize the assessor to continue to conduct the complete townwide revaluation and pledged to “support and assist” the assessor’s office until the project is completed. Instead of the new assessment roll becoming effective in May 2014, it will now become effective May 2015.

“It’s important to be as precise as possible,” said Mr. Surprise, “an extra year will not hurt when it comes to these things.”

Also on the assessor’s mind at the July meeting were available tax exemptions and making sure that residents get the ones for which they qualify. Mr. Surprise will make a presentation about exemptions and review the status of the ongoing revaluation and data collection program immediately following the regular 9 a.m. Town Board meeting scheduled for Saturday, August 10.

To contact Diane Valden email


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