BATH | Bath School District residents who didn’t follow the school’s annual budget process are getting a surprise in their tax bills for the new year.
An error in the 2018-19 tax data received by the district led to the tax rate being set too low following a revaluation in the Town of Bath, one of six towns in the school district.
The $515,000 that wasn’t collected is legally required to be added to the new year’s tax bills, according to Superintendent Joe Rumsey.
He noted that based on calls he’s received, the additional charge, which is listed as a separate item on bills, isn’t large. He’s heard numbers between $12 and $50 depending on the value of the property.
But he said regardless of the amount, he wants to maintain the trust between the district and residents.
“Nobody hates taxes more than me,” Rumsey said.
Information about the additional charge was recently posted to the district’s website, outlining what caused the problem and what the 2018-19 tax rate should have been.
Rumsey said a mistake in the tax assessment information provided to the district inflated the value of the former county nursing facility, shrinking the rates to be charged on other properties.
The error, which valued the facility at $38 million instead of $3.8 million, originated with Town of Bath records, according to Rumsey.
Town of Bath officials did not respond to calls seeking comment by press time Friday.
Rumsey said the immediate response to learning of the error was shock.
“We served notices of claim on everybody (initially),” Rumsey said, seeking legal relief after such a large mistake. That idea was dropped before long.
“Nobody wins when municipalities are suing each other,” he said.
Rumsey said because the town had just completed a full revaluation, district officials didn’t have a point of comparison to realize the new, lower tax rate wasn’t correct.
“We went off the tax rolls from the county like we normally do,” he said.
Town tax assessment records are provided to the Steuben County Real Property office, which passes them on to school districts.
County Manager Jack Wheeler agreed that the error was in records provided by the town.
“I can’t speak to how that error occurred, but the error occurred at the town level,” Wheeler told The Leader.
He said it was discovered when the property’s owner, Steuben Land Associates LLC, noticed the discrepancy and asked about the assessment.
County officials then contacted the school district about the error, Wheeler told The Leader.
He noted that with thousands of properties in the county, there’s no process in which county employees view each individual assessment to have an opportunity to notice the error.
“We rely on the municipality to provide the information,” Wheeler said. “That’s not a charge of the county (to review the information).”
While it was corrected in time to avoid issues with town or county tax calculations, the timing worked out badly for the school district, which operates on a different budget cycle, Wheeler added.
Rumsey said the 2018-19 tax issue had been discussed extensively through the Board of Education’s budgeting process for the new year, as well as in public hearings on the budget proposal.
But he added that public attendance at those meetings has been very low in recent years.