As Schoharie County slowly morphs from a rural county to a distant exurb of the Capital Region, economic, political and social changes promise to divide the community in many ways. The ongoing property tax debacle in the Town of Richmondville is an example. While the Town certainly has its share of legitimate grievances when it comes to assessments (most Towns do), it is a small minority of McMansion owners who seem to be making most of the noise.
The majority of Richmondville’s residents live in small site-built or manufactured housing along the Route 7 corridor or clustered in the hollows of the surrounding hills. However, where there are good views to be had, we’ve begun to see an influx of large expensive houses popping up.
Two extremely vociferous critics of Richmondville’s assessments are Horst Fierek and Robert Peck. I’m not going to publish any specific information about them personally, although I invite readers to look for themselves on Schoharie County’s website. These individuals’ properties are each assessed at around half a million dollars. Sure, that seems like a lot, until one looks at the homes these people live in: they’re monster houses! In fact, most of these high-assessment properties consist of extravagantly large homes on large parcels with sweeping hillside vistas.
So what do these people expect? Not only do properties with good views fetch higher market prices, but they usually require greater levels of road maintenance by the Town being that they’re built all the way up on top of a mountain. More road means more materials, more fuel for municipal vehicles, more culvert pipes, more repairs after Spring floods, and of course more road to plow during the winter. This way, the homeowners’ benefits of building a home with a good view are balanced out to account for the local government’s added costs of providing services to that property.
Also consider the fact that increased development on hillsides poses significant public safety dangers to residents; just look at the hillside collapsing underneath Horst Fierek’s sprawling mansion off Route 10. Obviously, I’m not saying there’s a one-to-one connection in the case of Route 10 but development obviously puts pressure on the land: streams get diverted, large amounts of soil and clay are displaced, and private water and sewer facilities take their toll as well.
Meanwhile, rural towns often lack the resources to keep up with the services required by increased growth. In few places is this more true than in Richmondville. Here’s a Town with a municipal garage that’s literally falling into a ravine, being held up with chains! The Town office is a shack! Meanwhile, exurban homeowners don’t understand why they’re being forced to bear the brunt of costs for increased services, which their presence creates the need for in the first place!
Personally, I have no sympathy for people who build giant McMansions and then have to pay high taxes. Why should people who live within their means by not building large garish houses have to subsidize a handful of snobs looking down their noses on the rest of us?
If the Horst Fierek’s and Robert Peck’s of Richmondville get their way and thus shift the costs of their services to the already strapped poor of the Town, it would be nothing short of a travesty. There’s more of us than there are of them. While I would like to see Richmondville’s assessment problems evened out, I certainly don’t want to let a few snobs use the issue to weasel out of paying their fair share of taxes.