ITHACA, N.Y. — The Tompkins County Department of Assessment shared its latest report with county legislators earlier this week.

Tompkins County has 16 municipalities and 35,406 tax parcels with a combined value of $13.5 billion, or $8.1 billion when excluding the tax-exempt properties. The department, which is heading into its 50th year, runs with a staff of 12 and rotates the locations it reassesses in an effort to keep the work manageable. (If you’re looking for an in-depth exploration of their work, have a read through last year’s write-up here.)

For this year, residential reassessments were carried out for the towns of Caroline, Danby, Newfield, Enfield, Dryden, Ulysses, the West Hill and Planned Unit Development areas of the town of Ithaca, the villages of Trumansburg, Dryden, and Freeville. On the commercial side, the department reassessed fast food restaurants, cell towers, mixed-use properties, and mini-storage enterprises.

The result of these reassessments was an increase in countywide property value of $490,075,993 — a 3.91% increase, and about double the rate of inflation. The total tax base went up 2.8%, or $215,000,000. A little less than 95% of properties saw their property assessment stay the same or increase, with the average increase being $15,000.

Continuing a trend seen for several years now, the department of assessment has found sales prices of homes are well above the assessed values of the property. Countywide, the average assessment for properties sold in 2018 was 92% of the sales price — so on average, a home sold at the median price of $236,000 was assessed at about $217,000. It’s a reflection of the market – difficult for many buyers, but a boon for many sellers.

On that related note, the median sales price for a home in Tompkins County ticked up 2.6% last year to $236,000. The average home sales price went up from $256,708 to $268,341, but this value could be skewed by a higher number of higher-end and luxury home sales. The overall number of sales decreased slightly to 849, the lowest count since 2011.

Jay Franklin, director of the department of assessment, said he did not find any of the details of the 2019 report to be all that unusual.

“I don’t think anything has surprised me,” Franklin said. “We are just a different market as compared to our neighbors. Despite our challenges, Tompkins County is still a very strong market.”

Tompkins County Department of Assessment. (File Photo)

Perhaps the biggest external change to the county’s market was the implementation of the Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017, also called the “Trump tax cuts,” or more derisively, the “Trump tax” due to the newly-imposed limitation of state and local income tax (SALT) deductions. Since the first year of taxes with the law in effect are still in the process of being filed, the impacts have yet to be fully determined, though the impacts on Tompkins County are expected to be somewhat limited by its relatively inexpensive properties in comparison to downstate.

“The SALT deduction is interesting.  I haven’t heard many issues around here yet – we shall see when everyone does their taxes for this year.  My brother is an appraiser on Long Island, and he was saying the $2-3 million market down there was really affected by this change,” said Franklin.

In an analysis of the market, the department noted that the student-oriented rentals appear to have some slack, thanks to the influx of new projects, including Cornell’s Maplewood rebuild, and potentially the 2,000-bed North Campus expansion. Still, the market is considered to be very strong, if not as tight as it has been in recent years. The department is tracking real estate developments across the county, and has in its notes over 11,000 beds in some stage of development, whether proposed, approved or under construction (the Ithaca Voice project map adds up to about 10,000, so their notes appear to be more comprehensive).

Generally speaking, there’s no across-the-board increase in the towns when it comes to assessment; the wide variety of properties means that each parcel is reviewed case-by-case, and some will increase in value more than others. Meanwhile, the village of Groton, despite its perceived issues, remains a strong market due to its relative affordability when compared to Ithaca and the inner suburbs.

Token public service announcement here, but should a property owner wish to dispute the reassessed value of their holdings, the deadline to file an informal review application is March 29. The formal review period when a property owner can file a grievance application with the Board of Assessment Review is from May 1 to May 28. Grievance day will be held on May 28 at the department of assessment. A small number of appointments for grievance day will be able to be scheduled starting on May 1, with a walk-in period from 4 to 8 p.m.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.