Rich Calder at The New York Post reports:
Homeowners in an exclusive waterfront enclave in Brooklyn thought Hurricane Sandy was as cruel a blow as they could suffer — until the taxman proved them wrong.
The city is claiming that property values have actually shot up for many homes in Manhattan Beach and it’s going ahead with hefty tax hikes for the houses devastated by the October superstorm, shocked property owners told The Post.
Homeowners in other neighborhoods hit by Sandy, including Coney Island, the Rockaways and parts of Staten Island, also said they’ve received increases.
“This is totally insensitive and heartless,” said Ira Zalcman, president of the Manhattan Beach Community Group, which has received more than 30 complaints from residents about the hikes.
We just sustained one of the worst national disasters in our nation’s history, and now the city is delusional, claiming our property values went up.”
Zalcman said that since Sandy, he has spent roughly $100,000 repairing the basement of his Dover Street oceanfront home, for which he pays more than $7,000 a year in property taxes.
He estimates his tax bill will go up nearly $200 for the fiscal year beginning July 1 because the city claims his property’s market value rose by $79,000 to slightly more than $2 million, increasing the home’s assessed value for tax purposes. He claims he’d be lucky to get $1.5 million.
Meanwhile, other owners facing tax hikes say their homes are so badly damaged, they have yet to complete repairs and move back.
One oceanfront home, at 295 Dover St., still had its windows and doors boarded up yesterday. But the city says its market value has jumped $473,000 the past year to $3.1 million.
The owner, Olga Belenkaya, has yet to return because the home was so badly damaged by Sandy, neighbors said. Belenkaya did not return messages left on her cellphone.
Councilman Michael Nelson (D-Brooklyn), whose district includes hard-hit Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach — called the tax hikes “heartless” and “something the city must immediately remedy.”
“Common sense dictates their property values have fallen, if not plummeted in some cases,” he said.
Stephen “Butch” Moran, vice chairman of Community Board 13, said he’s “shocked” his taxes are going up for one of the homes he owns in Sheepshead Bay and Seagate, where Sandy left him with $300,000 worth of combined repairs.
“How do you increase taxes for people who no longer have 100 percent of their homes remaining?” he said.
Finance Department spokesman Owen Stone said any tax hikes are part of a capped, state-approved five-year formula for setting assessment levels.
Property owners who oppose the hikes have until March 15 to appeal to the city Tax Commission before rates are finalized in May.
But lawyer Alex Singer, who estimates he has spent “well over $100,000” fixing damage to his Manhattan Beach home after it was partly engulfed by seawater and raw sewage, said “it’s unconscionable” that the city didn’t just lower tax rates across the board in Sandy-ravaged neighborhoods.
“It’s a matter of principle,” said Singer, 67, who was hit with a $56 increase on his yearly tax bill of $7,388 for the Girard Street home he has shared with wife Linda since 1975.
Singer and other neighborhood residents were especially peeved because their property-value notices, predated Jan. 15, didn’t arrive until the first week of this month. The notices included an outdated memo informing homeowners that they had until Feb. 1 to apply for assistance through the Finance Department’s new Hurricane Sandy Property Tax Relief program.
Stone, of the Finance Department, said that the program’s application deadline has been pushed back to Feb. 15, but added that the program has been available since late November.
He said his agency is reviewing 2,900 applications citywide.