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Golisano campaign seeks property tax fairness, includes planned class action lawsuit

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Rochester businessman, philanthropist and former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano has launched a new campaign to achieve fair property taxes in Upstate New York. His campaign also provides homeowners an opportunity to join a class action lawsuit.

Golisano says the assessment system is complex and flawed and has resulted in significant numbers of homeowners in Upstate counties facing higher property taxes than what they should be paying. While he would not disclose the amount of money he has overpaid, he told WBFO he has challenged over-assessments of his own properties on three occasions, going through court cases he described as lengthy and aggravating.

It inspired him to launch his campaign and website, which he says explains to homeowners how and why they are paying among the highest property taxes in the nation relative to their property values.

He studied real estate sales in June 2017 and found that in five counties, at least one-fifth of homeowners were taxed at a higher rate than what was appropriate, based on market value.

"This is assessment compared to sale price. In Erie County, 22 percent of homes were over-assessed compared to the sale price," Golisano said.

Erie County was at the low end of the five counties measured. Golisano determined that 25 percent of properties in Onondaga County are over-assessed. In Monroe County, the number climbs to 29 percent. Thirty-nine percent of properties in Albany and Rensselaer were deemed over-assessed by Golisano's research while the number jumps to 51 percent in Broome County.

"That means people paid more taxes than they should have or needed to, based on the assessment," Golisano said. "The assessment was too high. Their property was not worth the market value the assessors said it was."

Among the problems with the assessment system, he says, include more than 500 exemptions and numerous classification codes that create a greater likelihood of inequities. He also blames inconsistent training of assessors and inadequate oversight.

He also suggests those who take better care of their properties are actually punished through higher assessments while those who do not take as much care face lower assessments.

Part of the campaign is the plan to file a class action lawsuit. He encourages New York property owners to become plaintiffs.

"Hopefully what the lawsuit will do, number one, is to create a different system that's more equitable," said Golisano. "I think if we could accomplish that, that would be great."

He admitted having doubt that legal action may result in New York issuing refunds to overtaxed property owners but he stated "we're going to try." 

Golisano's website was launched midweek. He told WBFO within the first 18 hours of its operation, approximately 40 people signed up to join the class action suit. He is purchasing advertising that will run in several newspapers statewide during the weekend to spread the word about his cause.

"We think we're going to hit a real crescendo this weekend," Golisano said. 

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