People rally in Bethlehem against recent reassessment of properties

BETHLEHEM, N.Y. – People in the Town of Bethlehem rallied Thursday after many discovered the assessed value of their properties had significantly increased.

Some protestors claimed their property value has risen over 1,000 percent and fear they could go bankrupt or have to sell their land. But the Bethlehem Town Supervisor said residents should have been prepared, and he believes the increases were fair in most cases.

“Many of us have gone up 500 to 3,000 percent,” resident Keith Wiggand said.

Wiggand was just one Bethlehem resident who participated in Thursday's rally. He was joined by other residents and business owners like Joseph Rappazzo who were angry over the reassessments.

“And they clobbered us with taxes this year,” Rappazzo said.

Rappazzo owns Hidden Meadows Golf Course. He said his assessed value went up almost $500,000.

“How are you going to compete?” he asked. “You just can't.”

Bethlehem Town Supervisor John Clarkson said an outside assessment group did the reassessments.

“The result of this new assessment will be that homeowners in town – the vast majority of them – will actually have lower taxes in the fall,” he said.

Clarkson said people have been paying more than their fair share, and those who have seen a major increase own “vacant land held for investment purposes.”

The supervisor said people should have known of the reassessment for at least two years, and it's likely their properties weren't properly assessed.

“Many of those properties have been under assessed in the past,” he said. “So I'm sorry. I recognize that that's a hard, bitter pill to swallow.”

Clarkson encouraged people to go through the review process, but those at the rally reached out to Congressman Paul Tonko for help.

“Please give us a break,” Wiggand pleaded to the lawmaker. “You can help us.”

Tonko said the reassessments are a local rule issue, but he will help facilitate a conversation.

“Well, there is certainly a lot of room here for dialogue, and I will help and inspire that dialogue,” he said. “We'll follow it. We'll communicate with the various elected officials and express concerns that are shared with us.”

Property owners have just over a month to go through the property tax review process to attempt to have their assessments lowered. Otherwise, the assessment becomes fixed for years.

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