Sep 25, 2009 Ami Olson Uncategorized
Residents want more information, town board agrees
Heated public comment led to a surprising turn of events at the Elbridge Town Board meeting Wednesday Sept. 16, when the board was expected to approve an agreement with the town of Camillus to create a Coordinated Assessment Program. The Camillus Town Board passed the resolution to enter into a CAP with Elbridge at its Sept. 8 meeting. The agreement, if passed by the Elbridge board, would have become effective Oct. 1 and allowed both towns to qualify for state incentive money.
But instead of voting, residents’ dissatisfaction with the town’s methods caused Supervisor Ken Bush to retract his motion and put the agreement temporarily on hold.
Taxpayers want more information
Residents Dan Conroy and Doug Blumer, who both regularly attend board meetings, agreed that they supported the idea of the CAP and annual revaluations in the town. But they did not approve of how the agreement was nearly a done deal, and there had been no public meetings or public information on the topic.
The board defended itself, stating there was no legal obligation on the town’s part to hold a public hearing or discuss the move in public meetings.
The crux of that argument was that the CAP agreement would replace Elbridge town assessor Larry Fitts with Camillus’ assessor, Celeste Karakas, who would work full-time for both towns under the contract. Because of the hiring-and-firing nature of the agreement, Bush and Councilor Rita Dygert both said the matter was a personnel issue and the town does not normally go to the public with such changes.
But Conroy and Blumer saw things differently.
“This is changing the way the town does business,” Conroy said. That made it more than a management decision, in his view, and he questioned the board’s intentions by keeping the agreement “secret.”
“Obviously its a significant change… I think you’re kind of obligated for residents to know what your plans are,” Blumer said. “This is backdoor politics, in my opinion.”
“Doug, I respect you so much I’m going to withdraw this resolution and pay for an ad in the Shopping Guide for a public meeting,” he said. “So anyone who reads the Shopping Guide will know. I will not sit here and be accused of backdoor politics.”
Bush said a resolution for the agreement would be back on the agenda for the Oct. 7 regular town board meeting, allowing the public two weeks to respond.
CAP Nuts and bolts
One of the concerns among residents regarding the CAP was how it would affect their interaction and access to the assessor.
The board explained that currently the assessor is in the Elbridge office three hours a week. Under the CAP, the full-time assessor would be in the Elbridge office one full day to one and half days each week, and still be accessible to Elbridge residents while at the Camillus office.
Bush described the proposed system as a full-time assessor based in two offices, overseeing operations in two branch offices.
That assessor would be Karakas, who has served as the Camillus assessor for two years.
Fitts, who has served the town of Elbridge for 15 years and would essentially be out of a job if the CAP were created, expressed concerns over Karakas’ short time in the field. Fitts’ claim that the residents of Elbridge would be “under the control of the Camillus Town Board,” was discredited by Elbridge attorney Dirk Oudemool.
“The two town boards would not be merged together, there would be separate voting by each town,” Oudemool said.
The CAP agreement would be budget-neutral for Elbridge.
Bush said the 2010 budget would have allotted $20,150 for the Elbridge assessor’s office operations. Under the CAP, Elbridge would pay Camillus $20,000 for assessment services for the year.
Additional revenue in the form of state incentives for annual reval programs would be available to both towns.
Bush said the Oct. 1 deadline for the agreement was set up by the towns and could be moved back, so allowing more time for the public to learn about the proposal would not jeopardize funding.
Letter to Elbridge residents
The following is a letter to town of Elbridge residents and taxpayers, submitted by Elbridge Supervisor Ken Bush:
To the editor:
In response to the concerns and suggestions expressed during and after the recent town-wide revaluation, I have sought to find a way which would help to address the issues raised. I approached three towns with the suggestion of a shared service agreement to handle the assessing duties.
Two of the towns had already combined their assessing offices and they felt that they would not be able to accommodate our office. The town of Camillus reviewed our assessing office and workload and they felt it would make a good fit. I have proposed to the Elbridge Town Board that we enter in to a Coordinated Assessment Program (CAP) with Camillus. The Camillus Town Board has passed a resolution approving the CAP. What does this mean for Elbridge-
1. The town assessor would conduct an annual reval program instead of every 4, 5, or 6 years
2. The new assessor would be the current Camillus assessor and she would be available in the Elbridge on a more frequent basis because she is overseeing only two towns.
3. Property owners would have the option of visiting the Elbridge office or the Camillus office to discuss assessing matters with the assessor.
4. Elbridge would still provide its own regular office hours and staff to serve the public.
5. Elbridge would still have its own Board of Assessment Review.
6. The state will provide additional state aid up to $5 per parcel if Elbridge enters into an annual reval program, (assuming the state has any money left). That would be approximately $10,000 to $15,000 additional revenue for the town.
7. Costs to the taxpayer for the above: payment to Camillus would be $20,000 plus a mileage charge if the assessor uses the Camillus town vehicle.
8. If we stay the same — business as usual, no annual reval — the 2010 budget calls for the current assessor’s salary plus payroll costs to be $20,157. If the current assessor were to do an annual reval program there would an additional charge going to him of $3.50 per parcel. There are nearly 3,000 parcels in Elbridge.
If you have any questions, suggestions or concerns, please contact me at: office 689-6607, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Ken Bush Jr.
Supervisor, Town of Elbridge