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MEDIA CONTACT:  Randolph Yunker  (516) 571-5048
May 15, 2007

Viewpoints Editor
Newsday
235 Pinelawn Road
Melville, New York  11747

Dear Editor:

No other agency of the government has the authority to give away over $20 million dollars of taxpayer money without any oversight whatsoever.  Yet, Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR) hearing officers, with no assessment or appraisal background, are doing just that – awarding millions of dollars in reductions to a large segment of properties even though the assessments were accurate.

These hearings are often trials by ambush that take only minutes to decide.  Subjective comparable sales are not revealed by the petitioner until the actual hearing takes place, so there is little time for the Department of Assessment to examine and challenge the evidence provided.  In addition, there is no review or audit of the decisions handed down, nor are any transcripts or recordings kept of the proceedings.

As part of my investigation of SCAR hearings, I uncovered a number of instances of conflict of interest involving seven hearing officers and assessment grievance companies.  Only the hearing officers know whether their decisions were influenced by the fact that these companies were also representing the hearing officer’s assessment challenges on their own homes.

What is often ignored by some of the hearing officers is the fact that, under state law, assessments are assumed to be accurate and it is up to the petitioner to prove otherwise.  Unfortunately, many hearing officers are predisposed to assume the opposite is true.

In 2006, I submitted a SCAR reform bill addressing a number of flaws with existing statutes to legislative and judicial officials that is only now being introduced in the state senate. 

The most important provision of my reform package is that hearing officers should be required to have a license in appraisals or pass a certification program in assessment as I have proposed.  This concept is supported by the Long Island Chapter of the Appraisal Institute and the NYS Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman.

Sincerely,
HARVEY B. LEVINSON

Chairman, Board of Assessors