Tax consultant David Allen made an appearance at the Bethel Town Board meeting on January 4 to try to talk the board into settling some tax assessment disputes. That was not successful, but in an interview after the meeting, Allen lodged a couple of serious allegations against tax assessor Marge Brown and the Board of Assessment Review.
He charged that they were biased against certain property owners, and that the cases of excessive property tax assessment were far greater in Bethel than other towns in the county.
Allen, who has been presenting tax grievance cases in Bethel for four years, said, “In towns outside of the Town of Bethel, many times I find that the assessment is fair, and it’s not worth going through the grievance process because no one is going to gain from that. However, in the Town of Bethel, I find that every case I’m presented with seems to be grossly over-assessed, and very specifically in the Town of Bethel I find that people who are not voters in the Town of Bethel, such as members of second-home communities or weekenders, or people who come from a Jewish culture, are grossly over-assessed.”
He added, “The town assessor discriminates against second homeowners and people of the Jewish faith. The Bethel Board of Assessment Review—they only discriminate against second homeowners. So when I present cases to the board of review, if you live in a second-home community, you have no chance of getting a fair decision. However, if you are a permanent resident of the town, you can get a fair decision.”
Brown said Allen’s remarks were “libelous and untrue,” and she had no further comment.
Allen said he had represented 26 cases in Bethel last year, 22 of which were in The Chapin Estate; 85% of his clients were Jewish, and none were born in Sullivan County. Through the multi-step appeals process, Allen received the full reductions asked for on 16 cases, and two received partial reductions.
Some of the reductions were very substantial, resulting in savings of $16,000 per year in one instance.
Five cases were denied and one was disqualified. Allen said that he is going to appeal those cases to NYS Supreme Court, and that he was certain of victory, because, he said, in one case Brown gave misinformation to officials, and all of his cases are based on accepted appraisals.
At the meeting, Allen spoke about the matter during public comment, ultimately hoping to make the point that the town was going to lose the cases and should settle before going to trial to save money. But after listening to him for several minutes, supervisor Dan Sturm stopped him and, in a reference to the relatively high number of cases of litigation or threatened litigation the town regularly becomes involved in, said, “You’re threatening litigation. As far as I’m concerned, if you want to sue us the line is over there.”
Board member Vicky Vassmer-Simpson backed him up. She said, “I don’t think this is the proper forum for this presentation. I’m not comfortable with it.”
Board member Denise Frangipane also expressed a reluctance to address the issue at the meeting because she was not familiar with the cases involved and had not read the documents that Allen had brought with him.