The Cuomo administration's manual for municipal assessors instructs them to ask each property owner to allow an interior inspection during the reassessment process.
Assessors say such an inspection provides the best opportunity to discern both the condition, quality and extent of a building's improvements, which add to a home's taxable value.
The refusal to allow the New Castle town assessor into the home of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Food Network star Sandra Lee in late May has troubled assessors statewide. The request came two weeks after The Journal News revealed that Lee, who owns the $1.2 million home, had carried out extensive renovations on the 4 Bittersweet Lane mansion, but had failed to obtain building permits, which would have sparked a review of the home's value by the town assessor.
Homeowners have the right to keep the assessor at bay. But many homeowners cooperate. During Scarsdale's 2014 revaluation, village assessor Nanette Albanese said Tyler Technologies reported that 95 percent of Scarsdale homeowners allowed the data collectors inside their homes.
New Castle assessor Phil Platz was given permission to inspect the exterior of the home Lee calls "Lily Pond," so he had to estimate what was inside the six-bedroom Lee-Cuomo home on three acres. He boosted the value by almost $300,000.
This spring, the towns of Ossining and Greenburgh launched their long-overdue revaluation projects and Yonkers is expected to begin data collection by year's end. Ossining Assessor Fernando Gonzalez fears that homeowners will emulate Lee and Cuomo and limit the assessor to guesswork on the value of their interiors.
"Assessors undergoing revaluation are concerned with this train of thought — that it will give people an excuse not to allow us in," said Ossining Assessor Fernando Gonzalez. "Most people are very fair and want to pay their fair share. But just because taxes are high — that's not unique to Westchester — that's no excuse not to have done the right thing. The right thing, unless you have something to hide, is to have that proper valuation established."
It seems Governor Cuomo has something to hide.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the Mount Pleasant Republican seeking to oust Cuomo in November, said that New Castle assessor's inability to inspect the interior of the Lee-Cuomo home casts doubt on whether the governor and his girlfriend are paying their fair share.
"Everybody wants to know what he is hiding," Astorino said. "Nobody wants a tax cheat as governor."
What are you hiding, Governor?