The Myth of the “Real Estate Agent” as a Qualification for “Tax Assessor”

As November 7 fast approaches, I ask all voters to please step back and take a serious look at the two candidates vying to fill the Assessor’s seat that will be left vacant by retiring assessor Bob Scott. Put aside party affiliations for a moment to compare our resumes, and I am confident that you will find that I am the most qualified candidate to replace Mr. Scott.

My opponent in this important race, Charles Sanders, is touting his real estate experience as his biggest strength.

Although I am not a licensed real estate professional, my work in the building department has allowed me to have my finger on the pulse of the local real estate market. On a daily basis, I work closely with real estate professionals who rely on my expertise in order to market, sell, and represent properties throughout town.

There is no doubt that, to estimate the market value of a property, the assessor must be familiar with the local real estate market, and I have that “familiarity” through my work in the building department.

However, don’t be fooled by my opponent and his running mate who want you to believe that this is the only responsibility that an assessor has. In fact, to push that narrative is an insult to the office and to the property owners that they want to represent.

The New York State Department of Taxation and finance states the following:

“In addition to valuing property, assessors have other responsibilities:”

  • “Inspect new construction and major improvements to existing structures to ensure accurate property descriptions and valuations”

As a longtime employee of the Southold Town Building Department, working as both a code enforcement officer and a building plans examiner, my career has been spent inspecting properties, structures, and building plans and I am currently certified as a “building inspector,” by the Suffolk County Department of Civil Service.

  • “Approve and track property tax exemptions, including the School Tax Relief (STAR) exemptions”

As someone who has spent nearly two decades providing the people of Southold with local, state, and federal code analysis, code interpretation, and local code creation, as well as daily clerical work related to the properties located in Southold Town, moving into the role of understanding, tracking, and approving tax exemptions will be a easy and seamless transition

  • “Use software (such as RPS Version 4 which is developed by the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance) to administer their various responsibilities”

I have been using the RPS Software for the last 16 years.

  • “Attend all public grievance hearings of the Board of Assessment Review and present evidence in support of the municipality’s assessments” and “Prepare evidence for Small Claims Assessment Review hearings”

As a code enforcement official and building department employee I have, on countless occasions, presented evidence and testimony on behalf of the town in front of Southold Town Justice Court, New York State Courts, the Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Southold Town Historic Preservation Commission, preparing me for the role of presenting evidence and testimony to the town’s grievance board.

  • “Review real estate sale data for accuracy,” and “File annual reports on assessment changes with the state”

The clerical work that I perform on a daily basis for the Town of Southold has prepared me for this aspect of the Assessor’s position.

Don’t be fooled by a resume that’s padded with required real estate licensing courses that have nothing to do with the office of assessor.

I’m running on my merit, rather than on the word of party loyalists.

My resume, my record of fair and balanced service to the people of Southold, and my vast government experience speaks for itself.

Please, do the right thing for Southold, vote Damon Rallis, for Southold Town Assessor, on November 7.

Suffolk Times Letter to the Editor 9/21/17

Experience Matters


There is an important upcoming local race that will directly impact every property owner in the Town of Southold. After nearly three decades of service, Bob Scott is stepping down from the Board of Assessors. I am writing to ask your readers to vote for me on November 7 to fill this open seat.

Southold is one of the few remaining municipalities that elect a Board of Assessors. Most have switched to appointing this position, to ensure that the role goes to someone who has the necessary skills and the technological know-how to be successful.

Your newspaper once described the assessor as “a high demand public and customer service position that demands institutional knowledge.” As a code enforcement officer and building plans examiner in the Southold Building Department for the last 16 years, I am the only candidate who not only meets, but exceeds the qualifications necessary to successfully perform the duties of Southold Town Assessor.

My years of relevant experience, coupled with my record of a fair and balanced approach to working with the people of Southold, will strengthen and enhance the Board of Assessors. Your vote for me ensures success and stability at a time of transition for the office. Thank you.


Damon Peter Rallis

Candidate for Southold Town Assessor

Damon Rallis is Endorsed by the LI Fed, AFL-CIO

The Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, has endorsed Damon Rallis for Southold Town Assessor.

“Our support for your campaign is based on your record and your commitment to working families,” the organization said in its announcement. “We are confident that you share with us a common vision about the future of Long Island.”

“I’m so thankful to have the support of the Long Island Fed’s Executive Board, who represent 250,000 union members on Long Island,” Damon said. “As a union member and supporter, this endorsement is really important to me.”

Damon is vying for an open seat on the Board of Assessors, which will be vacated by the retirement of longtime Assessor, Robert Scott.

“My sixteen years working in town hall have given me the experience and the institutional knowledge that will help me follow in the footsteps of Bob Scott,” Damon said. “The AFL-CIO endorsement acknowledges that I have always been committed to serving the working families of Southold Town and the organization is confident that I will continue to do so as Assessor.”

Property Tax Myths & Misunderstandings


Myth #1: Assessors determine property taxes

Typically property tax rates are set by school boards, town boards, village boards, and county legislatures, but not by assessors. Each board determines the total amount of taxes it needs to raise, and then divides that number by the total taxable assessed value of the jurisdiction to determine the tax rate. Your share of the tax is calculated by multiplying the tax rate by your property’s assessed value minus exemptions, such as STAR.

Assessors are responsible for determining your property’s assessed value. In order to do this, the assessor estimates your property’s market value (the price it would sell for in the real estate market), and then applies the municipal level of assessment (LOA) to that market value. In many communities, the level of assessment is 100 percent, so a home with a market value of $90,000 has an assessed value of $90,000. In a town with a level of assessment of 50 percent, the assessed value of the same home is $45,000. The assessor also performs other functions, such as processing exemption applications and keeping track of the local real estate market, but the assessor does not determine your tax rate.

Myth #2: Taxes Are High Because of Assessments

It’s important to distinguish between taxes and assessments. If you feel your
taxes are too high, you should take that up with the town board, school board, or other governing authority that is determining tax levies and setting the tax rates. If you feel your assessment is too high, there are administrative and judicial processes where you can seek to have your assessment lowered.

Assessments should be based on market value, and if you feel your assessment is too high, your first step in confirming that is to determine your
property’s market value. The best way to do this is to look at the sale prices of similar properties in similar neighborhoods.

If you still feel that your assessment is too high, we recommend that you informally discuss your concerns with your assessor. More information on
the grievance process is available from your assessor’s office.

Myth #3: NY State Collects Too Much Money Through Property Taxes

While New York State government receives no money from the real property tax, this stable revenue source is vitally important to the delivery of services to the state’s citizens. Local governments and school districts collect the property tax, which is their largest source of revenue. That’s one of the main reasons that property taxes and assessments are administered locally (rather than by the state) in New York.

Myth #4: Equalization Rates Can Correct Unfair Assessments

Equalization rates are determined by the State Office of Real Property Tax Services and represent the overall ratio of a municipality’s total assessed
value to the municipality’s total market value. Because equalization rates are municipal wide measures, they are not intended to correct unfair individual assessments in a city or town. The assessor has the primary role in ensuring the fairness of individual assessments, subject to the right of owners to seek administrative and judicial review of assessments.

While equalization rates have many uses, they are most commonly known for their use in apportioning property taxes among municipal segments of
school districts and counties. In order for a school district or county to fairly distribute its property tax levy (the total amount of taxes to be collected), the
levy needs to be divided in proportion to the total market value of each municipality or municipal segment. This allows for an equitable distribution of
taxes based upon the market value of each municipality or segment.

In the apportionment process, the equalization rate is used to estimate the total market value of an entire municipality and/or segments of municipalities.

The formula used for this calculation is:

Myth #5: Tax Rates Are Good Indicators of Tax Increases

In late August, as the date for mailing school tax bills approaches, the tendency is to compare the tax rate for the previous year with the tax rate for the current year. In fact, tax rates are not accurate indicators of how much more a school district is collecting in taxes this year. For that, you need to look at the tax levy.

Tax rates are misleading because they are based on the aggregate assessments of each municipal segment in the school district. If one city or town in the district has done a reassessment that year, that segment’s tax rate may drop drastically. Put another way, a municipality might increase assessments and the school could keep the tax rate the same and it would still collect more taxes.

If you want to know if the school district, city, town, or county is spending more, look at the budget. If you want to know if it’s collecting more in taxes, look at the levy.

Myth #6: A Cap on Assessments Would Lower Property Tax Burdens

Occasionally, a proposal is made to cap assessment increases at a certain percentage each year. Doing so would result in some property owners paying less than their fair share of taxes, while their bills are subsidized by other homeowners. Eventually, properties that are increasing in value more quickly would be underassessed, while properties that are not increasing in value as quickly would be subsidizing the underassessed property’s taxes. (Typically, in the case of residential properties, lower-valued homes increase in value slower than high-er-valued homes.)

Meanwhile the town, county and school district would continue to collect the same amount of taxes that they would if assessments weren’t capped. A
cap on assessments doesn’t result in less taxes being collected, it just redistributes the tax burden to the disadvantage of properties increasing in value more slowly.

Myth #7: I Have to Be 65 to Get a STAR Exemption

All New Yorkers with incomes under $500,000 who own and live in their one-, two-, or three-family home, condominium, cooperative apartment, mobile home or farm home are eligible for the Basic STAR tax cut on their primary residence. There are no age or income limitations with Basic STAR.

Seniors with incomes not exceeding the state-wide standard may be eligible for the Enhanced STAR exemption. Applicants need only be 65 years of age as of December 31 of the year in which the exemption will begin. If you think you may be eligible, please contact your assessor for more information.

Myth #8: The STAR Exemption is Ending

The STAR program does not have a sunset (or expiration) date. In other words, NY’s homeowners will continue to benefit from STAR unless the Legislature votes to end it.


The Job of The Assessor


Who is the Assessor?

The assessor is a local government official who estimates the value of real property within a city, town, or village’s boundaries. This value is converted into an assessment, which is one component in the computation of real property tax bills.

What Training Does the Assessor Have To Take?

Assessors must obtain basic certification by New York State within three years of taking office*. This requires the successful completion of orientation, three assessment administration course components, and five appraisal components, including farm appraisal for certain agricultural communities. The New York State Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) prescribes the components.

*Assessors in Nassau County, Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers are not required to obtain basic certification.

Each year, appointed assessors must complete an average of 12 hours of continuing education. In addition, certified assessors and county directors must complete an approved ethics course one year prior to or one year after re-appointment or re-election to office.

Both elected and appointed assessors may attain any of three advanced designations awarded by ORPTS: State Certified Assessor-Advanced, State Certified Assessor-Professional, and State Certified Assessor-National.

What Does an Assessor Do?

The assessor is obligated by New York State law to maintain assessments at a uniform percentage of market value each year. The assessor signs an oath to this effect when certifying the tentative assessment roll — the document containing each property assessment. The physical description (or inventory) and value estimate of every parcel is required to be kept current. In order to maintain a uniform roll, each year your assessor will need to analyze all of the properties in the municipality to determine which assessments need to be changed.

Where assessments need to be changed, in some cases, your assessor will be able to increase or decrease the assessments of a neighborhood or group of properties by applying real estate market trends to those properties. This is possible only when the assessments to be changed are at a uniform level other than the municipality’s stated level of assessment. In other cases, the assessor will need to conduct physical reinspections for reappraisals of properties. Every assessing unit should be keeping all assessments at a fair and uniform level every year.

The assessment roll shows assessments and appropriate exemptions. Every year the roll, with preliminary or tentative assessments, is made available for public inspection. After the Board of Assessment Review (BAR) has acted on assessment complaints and ordered any changes, the tentative assessment roll is made final.

What Kind of Property is Assessed?

All real property, commonly known as real estate, is assessed. Real property is defined as land and any permanent structures attached to it. Some examples of real property are houses, gas stations, office buildings, vacant land, motels, shopping centers, saleable natural resources (oil, gas, timber), farms, apartment buildings, factories, restaurants, and, in most instances, mobile homes.

How is Real Property Assessed?

Before assessing any parcel of property, the assessor estimates its market value. Market value is how much a property would sell for, in an open market, under normal conditions. To estimate market values, the assessor must be familiar with all aspects of the local real estate market.

A property’s value can be estimated in three different ways. First, property is compared to others similar to it that have sold recently, using only sales where the buyer and seller both acted without undue pressure. This method is called the market approach and is normally used to value residential, vacant, and farm properties.

The second way is to calculate the cost, using today’s labor and material prices, to replace the structure with a similar one. If the structure is not new, the assessor determines the depreciation since it was built. The resulting value is added to an estimate of the market value of the land. This method, called the cost approach, is used to value special purpose and utility properties.

The third way is to analyze how much income a property (like an apartment building, store, or factory) will produce if rented. Operating expenses, insurance, maintenance costs, financing terms, and how much money expected to be earned are considered. This method is called the income approach.

Properties in sub optimal uses generally may not be assessed at market value; they must be assessed at their current-use value.

Assessors with computers can estimate values more efficiently than by hand. Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) techniques are used to analyze sales and estimate values for many properties at once.

Once the assessor estimates the market value of a property, its assessment is calculated. New York State law provides that all property within a municipality be assessed at a uniform percent of market value. The level of assessment can be five percent, 20 percent, 50 percent, or any other fraction, up to 100 percent. Everyone pays his or her fair share of taxes as long as every property in a locality is assessed at the same percent of value.

For example, a house with a market value of $100,000 located in a town that assesses at 15 percent of value would have an assessment of $15,000. The assessment is multiplied by the tax rate for each taxing jurisdiction – city, town, village, school district, etc. – to determine the tax bills. (For further explanation of this process, see “How the Property Tax Works”.

Does the Assessor have to be let into your home?

The New York State Assessors’ Association pamphlet, “Understanding Assessments and Property Taxes,” states:

The Assessor has a right to go to your front door and seek admittance (possibly he or she will only want to inspect the exterior of the house) but must leave the premises if asked to do so.

If it is really inconvenient to allow an inspection at that time, tell your visitor just that and try to make an appointment for some other date. However, if you can spare the ten minutes or so that will usually be required, we urge that you allow it to proceed so that the information necessary for equitable assessment can be gathered.

The pamphlet cautions property owners not to allow anyone into their homes without proper identification, preferably I.D. cards with photographs signed by an authorized town or city official. “No identification — no entry!”

What Else Does an Assessor Do?

The assessor performs many other administrative functions, such as inspecting new construction and major improvements to existing structures. This ensures that the record of each property’s physical inventory is current and that the appropriate improvements are assessed.

The assessor also approves and keeps track of property tax exemptions. Among the most common are the senior citizen, School Tax Relief (STAR), veterans, agricultural, and business exemptions.

The Real Property System is a computer software package (created and maintained by ORPTS) to assist assessment administration functions. It is available to assessors who have the necessary computer equipment, and allows them to electronically maintain the assessment roll and related records. Corrections to State form RP-5217 can also be sent to the State Board electronically. The Real Property System also includes computer-assisted mass appraisal programs for value estimation and assessment updates.

Legally, the assessor must be present at all public hearings of the Board of Assessment Review (BAR). The BAR may request the assessor to present evidence in support of tentative assessments being grieved by taxpayers. After meeting in private without the assessor, the BAR makes its decisions and orders any appropriate changes to the assessment roll before it becomes final. If assessment reductions are denied by the BAR, and property owners appeal to Small Claims Assessment Review, the assessor prepares evidence for those hearings.

The assessor reviews every transfer of real property for accuracy, including the basic information on the buyer, seller, and sale price. Assessment records are updated, and any unusual conditions affecting the transfer are also verified. Results are recorded on form RP-5217 at the real estate closing. The assessor makes corrections to this form.

ORPTS requires assessors to file an annual report on assessment changes. ORPTS also “equalizes” property assessments to a common full (market) value in each municipality.

Where Can I Go With Questions?

The assessor is continually communicating with the public, answering questions, and dealing with concerns raised by taxpayers. Anyone can examine the assessment roll and property records at any time. However, between Taxable Status Day and the filing of the tentative roll (generally, March through May), it should be done by appointment.

It is up to individual property owners to monitor their own assessments. Taxpayers who feel they are not being fairly assessed should meet with their assessor before the tentative assessment roll is established. In an informal setting, the assessor can explain how the assessment was determined and the rationale behind it.

Assessors are interested only in fairly assessing property in their assessing unit. If your assessment is correct and your tax bill still seems too high, the assessor cannot change that. Complaints to the assessor must be about how property is assessed.

Taxpayers unhappy with growing property tax bills should not be concerned only with assessments. They should also examine the scope of budgets and expenditures of the taxing jurisdictions (counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts, etc.) and address those issues in appropriate and available public forums.

Informal meetings with assessors to resolve assessment questions about the next assessment roll can take place throughout the year. If, after speaking with your assessor, you still feel you are unfairly assessed, the booklet, “Contesting Your Assessment in New York State” describes how to prepare and file a complaint with the Board of Assessment Review for an assessment reduction, and indicates the time of year it can be done.


Meet The Candidates Speech – June 16, 2017

(Original text version of Damon Rallis’s speech at the Southold Town Democratic Club’s “Meet the Candidates Breakfast”, held at Hellenic Restaurant, in East Marion, on June 16, 2017)

My name is Damon Rallis and I am running for Southold Town Assessor

Please excuse my attire, I have been washing cars all morning at the Boy Scout Troop #51 Car Wash fundraiser, which is happening as we speak, at Greenport High School and will be going on until noon for anyone who wants to get their car washed for a good cause, on their way out of town.

A little bit about myself: I live in Southold with my wife Joanna who is here with us today. I have two boys, Destin, 9, and Luca, who is 12, although Luca will turn 13 in a few weeks and he is with us this morning as well.

I mentioned the boys scouts; I am Scoutmaster for Troop #51 here in Greenport, I am also a Den Leader with the Cub Scouts; I am a member of Peconic Lodge #349 of Free and Accepted Masons; and I have been working inside town hall for the last 16 years.

A little bit about this year’s Assessor’s race: There are two openings on the Board of Assessors and three candidates vying for those seats. However, only two of the candidates are truly qualified – One, is the Republican incumbent, Kevin Webster, and the other is me.

What makes me most qualified for this position?

Every day for the last 16 years I have reviewed the building plans, the property files, and the records that are the basis for your property assessment.

Every day for the last 16 years, I have used the same tools, the same software programs, the same mathematical equations that the Assessors use on a daily basis.

Every day for the last 16 years I have worked with property owners, real estate professionals, attorneys, and business owners, fostering established working relationships with individuals who regularly do business with the Assessor’s office.

The Building Department and the Assessor’s office are so intertwined.

This is a “no-brainer”.

Short of an incumbent, you will not find a more qualified candidate. You will not find a candidate that can bring to the table the institutional knowledge necessary to fulfill the duties of Southold Town Assessor.

This year, as Democrats, let’s send a message.

Let’s send a message that, when it comes to our local government, when it comes to who we choose to lead our community, that, experience matters.

Thank you and thank you for giving me this opportunity.