Residents in the towns of Cicero and Salina may soon have a lot more in common.
The two towns are discussing sharing an assessor, a move which would save taxpayers from having to pay for a full-time position in each town.
The measure was discussed Monday night at Cicero’s town board meeting. It has also come before the Salina Town Board.
Brad Brennan, Salina’s assessor for the last 22 years, and Linda Yancey, the part-time interim assessor for Cicero, both spoke to the board in favor of the move.
“Salina is willing to do that, and I’m willing to serve if it comes up,” Brennan said. “We have no agenda. We’re looking to coordinate assessing and just looking to consolidate to save money.”
Yancey said the move would be a good one.
“The problem with Cicero is that you keep growing,” she said, “and over the years, the assessment office has not been able to grow along with the needs that have been there. You need people working for you that have a lot of training. You’re at the point where you need some highly professional people working for you to at least get some baseline accurate assessments.”
Yancey said she thought combining offices with Salina was the best option for the town.
“Brad would be an excellent solution,” she said. “He has the vast experience that comes along with him. As well as working for ORPS [Office of Real Property Services], he knows the programs inside and out. He knows evaluation. He knows how to model. He knows how to train people.”
Brennan said, if the merger goes through, he anticipated splitting his time between the two towns, being in Salina two and a half days a week and Cicero two and a half days a week. Otherwise, each office would be staffed with clerks, data collectors and other employees.
“All Cicero business would take place in the Cicero office,” Brennan said.
Yancey said Salina was an ideal partner for Cicero.
“If there were ever two towns that were alike, it is Cicero and Salina,” she said.
Cicero and Salina both have approximately 13,500 parcels, most of which are residential. Salina has assessed at full value for about the last nine years; Brennan was assessor when the town made the switch.
Dudzinski said the move has the support of the state Office of Real Property Services.
The state of assessments in Cicero is poor; the town tried to reevaluate about a third of its properties last spring and faced extreme opposition from residents. As a result, the town rolled back those re-assessments to their 2007 levels.
In order to address the issue, the town formed a committee made up of citizens, professionals and town board member Charlotte Tarwacki. The committee called for the town to switch from partial to full assessments (as about 65 percent of towns in the state use), to add staff at the assessor’s office, to improve the grievance process and to conduct a town-wide reassessment over the next two years.
The committee came up with their recommendations by working with representatives from the state and county offices of real property tax services, as well as several assessors from neighboring municipalities.
The town will have to pay an independent contractor to reevaluate all of the parcels at a cost of $40 to $60 per parcel.
“That needs to be done regardless of what assessor you get,” Brennan said. “And if you do get a new assessor, it’s important that the assessor has been through a revaluation project and knows how to oversee that.”
Tarwacki said she wasn’t sure combining assessors now was a good idea.
“Your statements say to me that we do need one person to oversee this reval,” she said. “It wouldn’t be very hard to take on an assessor for two or three years and then consider consolidation once things are put together correctly, once the reval is done.”
Tarwacki said she had spoken to John Winters, the chairman of the assessment committee, and he expressed opposition to the idea as well.
“I had a message from Mr. Winters today and he has not changed his opinion,” she said. “He feels that the work that the committee did was very true and comprehensive and that their recommendations were absolutely qualified. They felt that the person to oversee the work that is done should be one person.”
Brennan said he didn’t foresee a problem.
“It’s very important for the assessor to oversee that process [of the revaluation of the town’s properties],” he said. “That’s how we ran it in Salina, and it made a big difference to have that connection with the contractor while they’re in the field.”
Brennan also pointed out that, if a new assessor was brought in now and then consolidation took place a few years later, that second assessor would have to reexamine the numbers the first came up with.
Regardless of the board’s decision on the issue, Cicero needs to take steps as soon as possible to correct the problem.
“You’re at the time now when you need fair and equitable assessing,” Yancey said. “It’s more important now than it’s ever been given the economy. Things really need to be right, and they’re not.”
Cicero will hold a special meeting on the issue at 9 a.m. Thursday Jan. 15.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.