Fuzzy Math: Property Taxes Haven’t Officially Risen in More Than a Decade. So Why Have Collections Doubled?

A few years ago, a city Department of Finance official noticed irregularities in the way certain residential properties had been appraised by the agency, leading to slightly lower-than-normal valuations.

To compensate, the official suggested the department decrease its assessments across the board for the group, which mostly comprised single-family homes and small co-op buildings in an area of one of the boroughs.
Dropping the valuations slightly below usual thresholds would reduce the taxes the city could collect, but only by a few percentage points—a seemingly harmless amount in the face of the billions of dollars the agency assesses—and it would allow the department to restore uniformity and equanimity to its calculations, one of the mandates of its process.

What appeared to be an innocuous adjustment, however, garnered a backlash that was swift and forceful. Top officials at the department were summoned to Mayor Bloomberg’s Upper East Side townhouse. There they were confronted by the mayor and irate senior executives from the city’s budget office, the person said.

Though the theme of the meeting was ostensibly to discuss the irregularities and why the department had chosen lower assessments, the underlying message was clear: don’t trifle with the city’s revenue.

“I feel like we got taken out to the backyard to get whipped,” the source said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the meeting.
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