Calling the city’s Department of Finance the “Department of Fantasy,” and saying that the agency’s property valuation numbers make “no sense,” Glen Oaks Village President Bob Friedrich presided over a packed town hall meeting last Thursday at North Shore Towers in Floral Park.
Friedrich, who has led the fight against the city and its skyrocketing property tax hike for the past year, is an accountant and founder of Presidents Co-op & Condo Council, an organization of board presidents that represents nearly 30,000 housing units. He organized the meeting, which drew more than 900 Queens co-op and condo owners in protest of increasing property valuations and corresponding tax hikes that would have reached double and triple-digits in some cases.
At the meeting, Friedrich reiterated his assertion that co-op and condo valuations “bear no relation” to economic realities since property values in Queens and elsewhere have continued to stagnate as the region slowly works out of one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression.
As evidence of the increasing valuations, Friedrich noted that this year’s DOF numbers show that Alley Pond Owners Corp. — a group of co-op residents near Alley Pond Park — is seeing an increase of 47 percent while Glen Oaks Village rose 20.5 percent. Last year, Glen Oaks’ initial valuation was up 150 percent though after a firestorm ensued, the city slashed the hike to 50 percent and up another 20.5 percent this year. Final numbers are expected at the end of May.
“The DOF is slowly pushing out the middle class,” Friedrich said.
“The property tax system makes no sense on any level,” said City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone). He noted that even elected officials have been hit hard by property assessments that seem disproportionate.
“State Sen. Toby Stavisky’s own co-op in Cryder Point was hit last year with an increase of nearly 146 percent,” Halloran said.
He told the audience that he’s calling on the city to refund tax monies to city homeowners who have been overassessed. Halloran noted that the problem has reached the point where in some cases, borough co-op and condo owners are now paying more in property taxes than their mortgages.
Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said that co-op and condo owners should be treated more like single-family homeowners and not investors. He said that the DOF routinely finds the “highest market values” to set their assessments.
Friedrich has said that he analyzed the DOF’s data and found that commercial buildings had been improperly used to compute residential co-op valuations, “falsely skewing those valuations higher.” He called it the “hidden secret” of the city’s property tax system.
On Friday morning, City Comptroller John Liu unveiled the results of two recent DOF audits that showed homeowners were subjected to unexpectedly high property assessments at a time when home prices were either stagnant or in decline due in part to errors made by a malfunctioning million-dollar computer system, as well as to some fundamental changes the department made in its market value calculations.
Also at the meeting favoring change was Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who said the city needs to compare co-op owners to homeowners. “They’re not money-making landlords, they’re residents,” Meng said.
Liu said that he can’t force the DOF to make changes, only the mayor can.