By ANN BELCHER
PORTLAND - Taxpayers in Portland are seeking answers regarding painful spikes in their school tax bills due to the percentage change in the town's equalization rate.
OBSERVER File photo
Town of Portland residents came to the board with complaints earlier this month.
Their town supervisor and council have listened and are calling a special meeting, slated for Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Brocton Central School's auditorium to try and get all the questions and answers aired.
According to Town Supervisor Dan Schrantz, he has asked state tax and finance customer relations manager Bob Wright, as well as Chautauqua County Tax Director Jim Caflisch, Town Assessor Deanna Wheeler, Brocton school Superintendent John Hertlein and school business manager Betty Deland to convene at the meeting to hammer out what has happened to taxpayers' bills.
See RATES, Page A10
Of all townships and municipalities in Chautauqua County, Portland's equalization rate took the greatest percentage of change, which shifted a heavier burden of tax onto Portland taxpayers where school tax bills from multiple school districts are concerned. That weightier tax burden translated into some very noticeable jumps in tax bills this year, even despite the imposed 2 percent tax cap, which caused several taxpayers to lodge phone complaints through the Town Clerk's office, according to Schrantz.
He and the Portland council were addressed at its monthly council meeting by a large group of residents who have been doing their own homework to get to the bottom of why this equalization rate has taken such a turn.
"This is really the misleading part to this whole thing, is that no one (in town administration) thought the lower equalization rate would affect anyone in this way. To the average person, this whole process would be confusing and needs to be explained," Schrantz said.
Acknowledging the frustration of taxpayers once their bills were received, he added. "The other disturbing part is that the Town Board, the school districts, nobody had any control of this large tax rate increase, no one knew about it until you actually got your bill in the mail. I think this is an unfair tax and what can we do from here?"
After describing the situation as verging on "taxation without representation," he also reported that he convened with Wright late last week to try and ascertain how the equalization rate is configured, and to confirm that what the town's assessor provided to determine the rate was the same information that she handed over to the group of residents looking into the matter. It was alleged at meeting earlier this month that a deliberate lack of information may have been submitted to the state in order to intentionally skew the resulting rate.
According to Schrantz, Wright confirmed that the data provided by Wheeler did match up and that the rate she configured, 54 percent, fell within the allowable margin of error from what the state calculated, which was 52.32 percent.
The supervisor said he is remaining in close communications with the concerned group, and applauds members for their proactive efforts. He is hopeful that a better explanation can come from the public meeting, but has doubts about how the town can get any type of tax relief now that this has occurred.
"I would encourage everyone with concerns, questions or comments to attend this meeting so that we're able to hear directly from the people that can answer these questions for all of us," he concluded.