The Essex County Board of Supervisors.
Assessments were not just a hot topic at the many town Grievance Days this week.
They were also a debated topic during the May 21 Finance Committee meeting of the Essex County Board of Supervisors, where John Stack from the New York State Office of Real Property Tax Services talked about changes to the way in which assessments would be done throughout the state.
Stack talked about the memorandum of understanding that the state is seeking for the new assessment process, which is set to start in some towns for the 2013 rolls.
However, several supervisors said they were not pleased with the MOU, including Chairman Randy Douglas of Jay.
“Our real property office does not feel comfortable with us signing the MOU,” Douglas said. “Our assessors are worried, our town boards are worried, and our real property office is worried. I would recommend that no town here sign the MOU. You are asking us to sign an MOU and you do not know the answers to the questions that we are asking.”
Stack said that the MOU was needed in order to show a “commitment” to the program, and that he felt his office could help towns more effectively do assessments, explaining one area he felt needed to be addressed.
“A significant amount of the valuations in Essex County were done by trending,” Stack said. “That was something that was for a subdivision in Plattsburgh, and we had whole towns that were trending.”
Douglas said that Stack needed to meet with the assessors of the county together.
“We have met with them, but we still really do not know what their concerns are,” Stack said. “I have been here 12 years, and I have asked people if they needed help every year and we have not been taken up on any of them except two.”
“They do not feel comfortable with the MOU as worded,” Douglas responded.
“Nothing has come back to me,” Stack continued. “You may be getting that; they are not coming to me.”
St. Armand Supervisor Joyce Morency asked why there needed to be a new system when each town in Essex County has a 100 percent equalization rate.
“Every town is now at 100 percent,” Morency said. “I do not know what else the state wants from us.”
“The problem is if we do not go out and do it, you will go out and start to drop the equalization rate and that punishes us,” Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava added. “How many changes do you have in the town of Moriah in four years.”
Westport Supervisor Daniel Connell said that he felt the wording in the MOU was confusing.
“The last sentence of the memorandum says that if you sign it, you understand it, so I can't sign it because I do not understand it,” Connell said. “There is one paragraph that I have no clue what it is talking about.”
Stack reiterated that he had not heard these concerns before the meeting.
“We sent everyone these MOUs and ask for input and concerns,” Stack said. “We have not had any questions come back to us yet. I cannot answer any questions that I do not get. It's not just to be at 100 percent, is about being equitable. Equal value homes need to be treated fairly. Equity is much more important.”
North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi said it was not a matter of policy, but a lack of trust in the state for doing their part of the bargain.
“We all want to cooperate with you, yet it is very difficult for anyone in this body to want to cooperate with the state because you cannot trust what the state is saying,” Politi said. “If you could guarantee me that we are going to get paid, great. I have a lot of agreements with the state of New York that say we are going to get paid and we are not getting paid for any of them.”
Politi also questioned the numbers that were used to determine proper assessments by the state based on the date of the data.
“You want to up the property in North Elba by 4 percent and I have to laugh,” he said. “The data that you are using is four or five years old and it makes you out of touch.”