Signs in Crown Point call for the “gang of three” —Supervisor Bethany Kosmider and trustees Yvonne DuShane and Bob Patnode — to resign following their vote to eliminate the elected board of assessors in favor of a sole, appointed assessor.
Decision’s aftermath ‘horrifying’
The Crown Point town board’s decision to eliminate the elected assessors has divided the community. Some support the assessors, others support the decision and still others believe the issue should have gone to a public referendum.
Signs have gone up criticizing the “gang of three” — Kosmider, DuShane and Patnode — who voted for the change. Town board meetings have become raucous. Letters to the editor have been published. Discussions — sometimes fights — have taken place on streets.
“It’s been horrendous what’s happened since that vote,” Kosmider said. “Friends and neighbors are arguing. People have been intimidated and threatened. It’s terrible.”
Kosmider noted she and Mackay are next door neighbors and longtime friends. That relationship has been strained, she said.
Kosmider said she has been forced to call the state police on three occasions. Gunshots were fired near her home the night of the assessor vote; she was forced off the road by a friend of an assessor, whom she refused to identify; and after she became “concerned” with comments directed at her by Mackay. No arrests have been made.
“I feel this wouldn’t be happening to me if I was a man,” Kosmider said. “They think I’m vulnerable, but I’m not going to sit idly and be threatened.
“The tactics they’re using aren’t fair,” she said. “This has gone way beyond politics.”
Ross said he supports people speaking their minds, but not threats.
“People are upset,” he said. “I’m upset. I don’t think it’s right (the move to a sole assessor).”
Kosmider said misinformation and outright lies are fueling the controversy.
“Why go out and tell people things that aren’t true?” she asked. “People have been told they’ll lose their STAR, ag (agriculture) exemption, veterans exemption, senior exemption. That’s not true. The state put these things into place and only the state can change them.
“Misinformation and exaggeration are no substitute for facts,” she said. “Fear has no place in a democracy.”
Kosmider declined to say who is spreading the misinformation.
The issue is now political. Signs across town are calling for the “gang of three” to be voted out of office. DuShane, a three-term incumbent, was defeated in the Crown Point Republican primary Sept. 13. Kosmider a Democrat will face Republican Charles Harrington in the November general election. Patnode is not up for re-election this year.
Ross said he will work to defeat those who voted to eliminate the elected assessors.
“I’m going to support candidates I believe will do the best job for the town,” Ross said. “I want what’s best for the town.”
Kosmider hopes to be re-elected in November. She remains convinced the move to a sole assessor is right for the community.
“The calls, letters, people we meet on the street — they make me realize we did the right thing,” Kosmider said. “We’re trying to do what’s best for Crown Point.
“We have an election coming up,” she said. “After that election, win or lose, the town will move on. I give the people of Crown Point a lot of credit. They fight for what they believe in, but in the end they always come together and move forward for the good of the town.”
Carl Ross is confident the Crown Point assessment roll is fair and honest.
“Our assessments are accurate,” said Ross, chairman of the Crown Point board of assessors. “I may have made a mistake in there, but certainly unintentionally. There will never be a perfect roll, but that’s what we try for.”
Laurie Harvey doesn’t believe it.
“I won’t comment on the assessors as individuals, but their assessing is not fair,” said Harvey of the Interested Taxpayers of Crown Point. “I don’t know how they arrive at their assessments, but it doesn’t appear to me that things are equitable.”
The Interested Taxpayers of Crown Point, a recently formed group committed to addressing local issues, placed an ad in the Sept. 10 Times of Ti highlighting five instances of, what the group believes to be, unfair assessments in the town. Since then Harvey has provided eight other examples of unfair assessments, according to the Interested Taxpayers of Crown Point.
Crown Point assessors — Ross, Stephen Mackay and Glenn Porter — dispute the group’s claims. Ross, using the current assessment roll and tax maps, discussed each charge made by the Interested Taxpayers of Crown Point and offered explanations.
One example of unfair assessment cited by the Interested Taxpayers of Crown Point is a .17-acre parcel owned by Ross on Main Street assessed at $110 and a .16-acre lot owned by Elizabeth Mason on Route 9N assessed for $8,100.
Ross noted his property is a long, narrow driveway leading to his daughter’s home and two other lots owned by other people. Because of its configuration, it can be nothing but a driveway.
The Mason property, Ross pointed out, is configured differently and is a building lot.
“Assessments are based on actual value,” Ross said. “A building lot is more valuable than a driveway.”
The Interested Taxpayers of Crown Point also point to a 2-acre lot owned by assessor Mackay with 120 feet of waterfront on Lake Champlain assessed at $50,800. The group compares it to a 1.8-acre lot owned by Vincent Reneau with 90 feet of waterfront on Lake Champlain assessed at $57,800.
Ross said the Mackay lot has a sharp cliff as it meets the lake and has limited access to the water, while the Reneau lot has full access to the lake. That access makes the Reneau lot more valuable, Ross said.
In another example of alleged unfair assessing cited by the Interested Taxpayers of Crown Point, a 110.8-acre lot owned by Ross is valued at $42,200, while a 21.5-acre lot owned by Fred Kainer is assessed at $25,700.
Ross pointed out his land is a wood lot, which is assessed at a different rate than residential property. Wood lot rates are set by the state, he said.
Ross pointed out Crown Point assessors recuse themselves when dealing with their own or family members’ property. Those values are assigned by the two remaining assessors.
Harvey doesn’t believe the explanations and has relayed these, and other, examples of what she feels are unfair assessments to the state attorney general’s office in Plattsburgh.
Glen Michaels of the attorney general’s office refused comment on any possible investigation.
Harvey claims she has no interest in local assessments other than justice. She acknowledged she has challenged her Crown Point assessment three times and had it was reduced each time — once in court, once by the town board of assessment review and once by assessors themselves.
“I don’t have anything against the assessors; everything has always worked out in my favor,” Harvey said. “My purpose in doing this is to get people interested. Most people don’t fully understand assessments and what they mean. We want people to get involved and ask questions.”
Harvey pointed out all town assessment rolls are available on the Essex County website — www.co.essex.ny.us/realproperty.asp. The local roll is also available in the assessors’ office in the town hall.
Ross said Crown Point assessors welcome the scrutiny.
“There are no secrets here,” Ross said. “Any time people want to look at this (assessment) book they’re welcome to call and come down. We’ve never turned anyone down who wanted to see the book or ask questions.”
Ross went on to review the land owned by each assessor. Ross owns five parcels with a total assessment of $280,110. Mackay owns eight parcels with a total assessment of $385,100. Porter has one parcel valued at $200,000.
Crown Point has 1,700 parcels with a total assessed value of $147 million.
In July, the Crown Point town board voted 3-2 to eliminate the elected three-person board of assessors in favor of a sole, appointed assessor, effective Dec. 31. Supervisor Bethany Kosmider joined with trustees Yvonne DuShane and Bob Patnode in voting for the change. Trustees Charles Mazurowski and Tom Walters opposed it.
Supporters of a sole assessor claim the move will save the town about $18,000 a year, noting the change was recommended by the town budget reduction committee. Opponents feel the current assessors are doing a good job, that money can be saved in other areas of the budget and people have a right to elect assessors.
Kosmider said the decision to change to a sole assessor was strictly a financial move and had nothing to do with questions about the ethics of local assessors. She declined to comment on the current assessors.
Ross believes Crown Point assessors are now being questioned in an attempt to justify the earlier decision to eliminate them.
“They are trying to make us look crooked and prove the town board was right to get rid of us,” Ross said of the Interested Taxpayers of Crown Point. “They just keep nitpicking until they come up with something to make us look bad.”
Kosmider said she is not a member of the Interested Taxpayers of Crown Point. In fact, she was unaware of the group until the Sept. 10 Times of Ti ad.
Ross said someone has been in his office, apparently looking through files in an attempt to find embarrassing or incriminating information. He said some files are missing.
Harvey stressed her information comes from the county website. She said she has never removed any material from the assessors’ office. Kosmider also said she has never removed anything from the assessors’ office.
Ross believes the town board voted to eliminate the elected assessors because of an incident involving residents Don and Joan Miller.
In 2009, the Millers challenged their assessment and won in court. The following year assessors raised the Millers’ assessment. They again challenged it, but this time the assessors won.
This past spring, at a special town board meeting, the Millers, their attorney, the assessors, the town board and town attorney gathered to discuss the Millers’ assessment. The Millers presented an appraisal that showed their property was worth $190,000.
In that meeting, Ross claims he was pressured to lower the Miller assessment. Noting the assessors are independently elected, he refused.
“It got very heated,” Ross said. “I’ll admit, I was upset. The town board had no right to interfere with assessments.”
Kosmider remembers the meeting differently. She said the Millers were threatening to sue the town and the town board was simply looking for a compromise.
“We never told Carl (Ross) to lower the assessment,” Kosmider said. “We wouldn’t do that.”
The Millers, who are assessed at $249,000, wanted their value reduced to $190,000. After the assessors refused their request, the Millers again went to court. The court upheld the assessors’ value.
“It’s not fair,” Don Miller said of his assessment. “They (assessors) take care of certain people and if they don’t like you there’s a problem. It’s all about power. They enjoy having power over people.”
Don Miller is a member of the town budget reduction committee. After assessors refused to lower his assessment, that committee recommended the elimination of the elected assessors to the town board.
Miller said his personal situation had no impact on the committee’s recommendation.
“We’ve certainly had our fights, but I have no animosity toward the assessors,” Miller said. “We looked a long list of suggestions to save money and going to a sole assessor was one of them. My situation played no role.”
Ultimately, the town board accepted the recommendation of the budget reduction committee and voted to eliminate the elected three-person board of assessors in favor of a sole, appointed assessor.