PORTLAND - Lakefront residents in the town of Portland are still fighting the equalization rate, which decreased causing an increase on school tax bills.
At a special meeting held Friday morning, Town Supervisor Dan Schrantz began the meeting by reading a letter from the state board of Real Property Tax Services in regard to the town challenging the equalization rate. The rate, which is at 54 percent for this year, dropped from 62 percent causing some residents' tax bills to significantly increase. The town has filed an appeal with the state to raise the equalization rate. In the process, the town is hiring a law firm at an estimated cost of $5,000. Residents Bill Ploetz, Mark Rand, Tom Webber and David Foley all attended the meeting to see what could be done about the equalization rate in the town.
"We're not here to challenge the tax laws themselves. ... We really want to be treated fairly," Ploetz said. "We want to find out where does the assessor's loyalties lie - the state, the county, the town. We want to end up with an assessor that has the best interest of the town at heart."
OBSERVER Photo by Samantha McDonnell
The Portland Town Board held a special meeting Friday morning to discuss the equalization rate and the appointment of the assessor. Pictured, from left, are Councilman Jerry Boltz, Supervisor Dan Schrantz and Councilman Gary Miller.
Ploetz had numerous questions for current assessor Dea Anna Wheeler who was in attendance. He asked if Wheeler could describe the equalization rate and how it affects taxes.
Wheeler said the equalization rate does not affect taxes directly; it is the school and town's budget that determined the tax rate. She also said the equalization rate is the adjustment between assessments and full market value.
"A huge shift in the equalization rate makes a huge shift in the share of taxes, moreso in the school district of Fredonia than Brocton. But even the Brocton people paid a higher share than they have in past years because of that equalization rate shift. Equalization rate is important to what taxes the town residents pay. That should be common knowledge when a supervisor asks an assessor 'Is this going to affect us?'" Ploetz said.
Foley said there were measures Wheeler could have taken to challenge the reduction prior to the board hiring an attorney. He said the town of Charlotte challenged their reduction in the equalization rate and was able to have the rate not lowered as much.
"She certainly could have taken steps to advise the board that there are ways of challenging it prior to having to spend $5,000 on Hodgson and Russ to challenge it. She could've said, 'If you're not happy with this reduction, I'll take another look at it.' Her response was it's OK," Foley said.
Wheeler said the state had wanted a lower rate at 52 percent but she claimed 54 percent. The higher rate was accepted by the state.
"You're trying to make the point (I) wanted it to go down. If that was the case, I could've easily said instead of 52 (percent), let's go down to 50 percent...," Wheeler said.
Another question Ploetz had was what happens when a property owner replaces something on their home. Wheeler said there is a difference between maintenance and property improvements where an improvement adds value to the home. Foley said he is afraid to add a shed to his property in fear his assessment could go up more than what a shed would cost, roughly $8,000, he said. Foley said Wheeler has been hard to work with but does not want anyone to lose their job. He said he does want to work with Wheeler and have a workable relationship. Rand had questions about the assessor's responsibilities in town office and if the town has a job description. The residents wanted the town to institute a taxpayer's bill of rights and a job description for the assessor.
"If (the assessor) can't sit down and supply the data to us, and they can't sit down and be in a position going against the state with what the state comes up with on a year-to-year basis. If they don't have adequate enough understanding of how the system is ... you'll end up in the situation all over again," Rand said. "This is not Dea Anna specific. This has to do with the office of assessment in the town of Portland. The office itself is not providing the information that's needed to go up against the state."
Foley said Wheeler negotiated out of her contract in the towns of Ellery and Gerry and wanted the board to find out why. Miller said when Wheeler was appointed, her two previous employers said they had problems with her concerning the same issues Portland is facing, but her current employer at that time recommended her highly.
Councilman Al Valentin said he has never had a problem with Wheeler and she has done whatever the town board has asked of her. Rand said he doesn't have anything personal against Wheeler but admits there are some issues the board needs to look at in assessing.
"I'm just trying to look at it overall and hopefully we can help do something that everybody would be pleased with or at least tolerate. There are some root causes we need to look at," Valentin said.
The town board discussed having an outside source come and evaluate properties townwide. A reval for all properties will cost about $70,000 over a three-year period. Wheeler asked the board if she would be reappointed since her term will expire Sept. 30. Miller said he was not comfortable appointing Wheeler for a six-year term. Schrantz wanted to find out from the state if the assessor could be appointed for a lesser term. Pending research from the state on if the term can be shortened to two years, Wheeler was appointed as assessor from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2015. All voted in favor except Miller, who was opposed.
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