Many residents here are seeing their property assessments increase dramatically this year, with some parcels rising as 127 percent.
Chesterfield and Ticonderoga are the only two towns in Essex County that are not assessed at 100 percent of market value.
Last year, the Town of Chesterfield was assessed at only 92.71 percent. This means the towns that share the same school district but are assessed at full market value, Keeseville and AuSable, have essentially been contributing more to the tax base than Chesterfield.
"Assessments are supposed to be a fair report of the market value so everyone pays their fair share," said Todd Anthony, analyst for New York State Real Property Services.
"Just because they choose not to reassess does not mean they should get a tax break."
Chesterfield Town Supervisor Gerald Morrow said the main factor causing the increase in property values is the purchasing of property by people from outside the area for prices much higher than normal.
"That is plain and simply the only reason," he said.
But Anthony said that is not the main element behind the 2010 assessment increases. During a couple of years when the property was assessed about 7 percent below its actual value, the housing market saw sharp increases, which were not being reflected in the assessed value of Chesterfield, he said.
While the spike may have been only temporary, the process of returning to 100-percent valuation is causing some residents to question why their assessments have increased by so much.
"This move is from values that are a couple of years old," Anthony said. "Obviously, things (the market) have leveled out; it has slowed."
Residents such as Janice Washburn are worried that steep increases in property values will result in higher taxes.
Washburn's property assessment was raised by 70 percent. Built by her husband, their home is prone to mud slides and has not seen any improvements in the last decade. Washburn said that as she is disabled and her husband is unemployed, she worries that living here may no longer be affordable for her and other people of modest income if taxes continue to increase.
"People are taking advantage of the opportunity to sell their property for much more than market value," she said. "A lot of people are going to be in danger of losing their homes."
DEPENDS ON LEVY
Morrow, however, said that no one seeing an increase of less than 100 percent should have any increase in taxes.
"Hopefully, we can keep our tax levy down," Morrow said, "and hopefully we can lower it even more."
School taxes make up 62 percent of Chesterfield residents' tax obligation, their single heaviest tax, Anthony said.
The state's STAR program exempts those eligible from a percentage of their school taxes. For the 375 eligible for basic STAR in Chesterfield, $30,000 per $100,000 of their property value is deducted when calculating school taxes.
For the 141 seniors using the Enhanced STAR in the town, $60,100 per $100,000 is omitted, Anthony said.
"The general people will be paying the same, unless the levies change," he said.
Morrow said he expects the amount people can exempt through the STAR program will increase when Chesterfield is ultimately at 100-percent assessment, as the state reduces the town's STAR funds in proportion to the percentage the town is under-assessed.
Bill Dempsey of Florida filed a grievance with the Town of Chesterfield when he learned that the assessment on his second home, located on Water Edge Road, had been increased 127 percent.
The amount was reduced, but not to his satisfaction.
Dempsey believes the re-assessment is going to cause problems as people begin comparing the value of their residence to others in the community.
"It's not healthy for the people. It's turning neighbor against neighbor."
Some of the hardest hit were lakefront properties.
AIDED BY COMPUTER
Shelley Davis, sole assessor for the Town of Chesterfield, said a computer program initially estimates the assessments and takes into account many factors, such as the acreage and location of property, its age, type and condition of buildings on it. Sales of comparable properties are also considered.
Mistakes can be made, however, and Davis encourages people who are upset with the their assessments to come in and review the details.
"There are adjustments that need to be made. We can't do it if the people don't come in."