The towns of Cicero and Salina have made the first moves toward combining their assessor’s offices under a Coordinated Assessment Program (CAP).
Cicero’s town board voted 4-1 to approve a motion allowing Cicero Supervisor Chet Dudzinski to begin formal talks with Salina Supervisor Mark Nicotra about merging the offices. The vote took place at a special meeting Thursday morning at Cicero Town Hall, with Councilor Charlotte Tarwacki as the lone dissenting vote.
The towns have been considering the merger for the last few months, but Thursday’s vote marks the first formal step in initiating the process.
“I need permission from the town board to move forward with any kind of formal talks,” Dudzinski said. “Anything that’s happened so far has been strictly informal.”
Now, the attorneys for both towns will sit down and start to work out the logistics, including some rough numbers as to the cost and potential savings to both towns. It has already been decided that Salina assessor Brad Brennan will take on the duties of both offices, working part-time in Salina and part-time in Cicero.
Assessment committee’s recommendations
In Cicero, Brennan will be tasked with heading up the town’s reassessment. Cicero has not had a town-wide reassessment since the early 1990s, leading to inequities in the tax base. After former assessor Anita Barnello attempted to do a partial reassessment of 1,700 properties and was forced to scrap that work, the town formed an assessment committee to address the issue. The committee called for the town to switch from partial to full assessments, 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.
If the merger is approved, Brennan will work with an outside contractor to evaluate all of the town’s properties and to rewrite the assessment rolls.
Dudzinski said that, while he hadn’t spoken to the members of the assessment committee about the issue, he felt the board had taken all of their recommendations seriously.
“They did recommend a full-time assessor, but as Theresa Frank from ORPS pointed out, there aren’t a lot of really good assessors out there,” he said. “We have the opportunity to work with someone who’s got a ton of experience and who’s very good at what he does. I have all the faith in the world in Brad because of his 22 years of experience in Salina and his work with ORPS [Office of Real Property Services].”
But Tarwacki, the board’s liaison to the assessment committee, disagreed.
“Cicero needs a full-time person,” she said. “I do believe that the best interests of the people of the town of Cicero and the taxpayers whose values will go up or down need to have a person that they can come to and talk to.”
She said Brennan’s plan to be in Cicero part-time wasn’t enough.
“There have to be qualified people in our office,” she said. “I think it’s a full-time job.”
But Brennan said he could easily take on the reevaluation on a part-time basis.
“The work that comes in is something that I could certainly handle,” Brennan said.
The full CAP cannot go through until Cicero’s assessment rolls are brought up to date and the town is operating on a full-value assessment basis, which is expected to happen by 2011. Therefore, the towns will be involved in an informal partnership until that time. Dudzinski compared it to the trial period used by the towns of Lysander and Van Buren when they merged their assessors’ offices.
“They had a few people on their boards that said, ‘Maybe this isn’t a good idea, we’re not sure about it,'” he said. “So they did it for a year under an informal agreement before they did the CAP, and they found that it was a good thing, and now everybody’s happy with it.”
The move also has the support of the county and ORPS.
“We’re all trying to do more with less,” said Theresa Frank of ORPS. “It certainly can be done if there’s good support staff.
Both Dudzinski and Nicotra said Brennan would most likely spend more time in Cicero for the first two years than Salina given the state of the former’s assessment rolls.
“I know if I were the assessor, I’d want to be here as much as possible in the beginning to work out all of the bugs and navigate the bumps in the road,” Dudzinski said.
Nicotra said he didn’t expect the town of Salina to have a problem with that.
“I think Brad has our assessment department running very smoothly,” he said. “We have a very capable staff, and they keep things going even when Brad’s not physically in the office.”
Dudzinski said he felt the proposal would best serve the residents of both towns.
“If we coordinate with Salina this year, we will save money and have a qualified assessor to oversee the project,” he said. “Cicero has an opportunity here to have the best of all worlds. I think we should give this a try If I didn’t think this was a good idea, I wouldn’t have proposed it.”
“I don’t foresee any disadvantage,” he said. “This is something we can do to make government better and more efficient and to save our taxpayers money.”
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.