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Residents had plenty of questions when a proposal to convert property assessments in the Town of Cheektowaga to full market value had its first public airing Thursday night.

But there was one question, in particular, that couldn’t be answered to the crowd’s satisfaction.

Why?

Hundreds of people filled the cafeteria at Maryvale Primary School for the first of six scheduled meetings. The session, as advertised, also included information about plans for recycling totes.

But after Town Supervisor Mary F. Holtz outlined those plans and answered some questions, one woman was more than ready to switch topics. “Can we get to what we came here for?” she asked.

Joseph H. Emminger, president of Emminger, Newton, Pigeon & Magyar – a real estate appraisal and consulting firm whose contract with the town recently was renewed – focused on key information in a PowerPoint presentation. The supply of 200 printed copies quickly was depleted as the crowd grew.

For the past 20 or more years, property in Cheektowaga has been assessed at 100 percent, Emminger said. But the town has an equalization rate of 62 percent, which is set by the state to ensure equitable property tax allocation among taxing jurisdictions, among other things.

A home now assessed at $62,000 has a full market value of $100,000, Emminger explained. The proposal would have all assessments at 100 percent by July 1, 2014.

Emminger repeatedly tried to reassure residents there wouldn’t be a corresponding increase in property tax rates, as many believe.

“If you leave here knowing nothing else, you’re going to know that’s a fallacy,” he said.

Tax rates actually would drop, but the total tax bill would remain unchanged.

Taxes don’t go up because of the tax rate, Emminger said; it’s because of the tax levy – the amount of the annual budget to be raised through taxes. “What your town boards and what your school boards do to their budgets, that’s what you have to pay attention to,” he said.

The sales prices of five comparable properties are used to establish market value estimates.

“What adds value is putting on additions, converting garages,” Emminger said. “Anything that affects your market value is going to affect your assessment.”

A question-and-answer period opened with someone asking why full market assessments are being proposed.

“Transparency,” Emminger replied.

A man standing at the back of the cafeteria, who frequently interrupted Emminger’s presentation and residents’ attempts to ask questions, said: “The only reason they’re doing this is to get more money out of us. They wouldn’t do this if they weren’t going to get more money.”

That same man repeatedly demanded to know if the public would be able to vote on the proposal.

Responding to another “why” question, Emminger again answered “transparency,” then went on to explainethe intent is to show people what their property is worth.

Then a man asked about the word transparency. “Should we assume the town hasn’t been transparent?” he asked.

The second meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday in Henesey Hall at Infant of Prague School, 921 Cleveland Drive.

email: jhabuda@buffnews.com