BROCTON - There may be some light at the end of the tunnel as far as data to be used by Portland Town Assessor Dea Anna Wheeler in the next equalization rate configuration.
Wheeler, the Portland Town Council members and Concerned Residents of Portland gathered earlier in the month for a sit down to discuss this year's rate and how to prepare for the following year's rate so as not to experience another seismic shift in calculating taxes, as school tax payers experienced in 2012.
Portland Town Supervisor Dan Schrantz updated those in attendance at the Wednesday evening council meeting on what has taken place since the workshop.
"Our assessor Dea Anna met with representatives from the state and this 'Area 81' that has been referenced seems to be calculated by similar towns that also had lake front property as we do, so that's where that sample was taken from. 'Commercial property' was based on a category called 'Southern Tier' since we didn't have enough commercial property to configure," reported the supervisor.
Councilman Rick Manzella further questioned, "Well what's 'Southern Tier' supposed to refer to? They're saying these counties are similar to ours?"
Schrantz stated yes, that other Southern Tier counties of Western New York were taken into account to provide that data, and that the top and bottom two percent of the averages were thrown out of the equation.
"Dea Anna felt more comfortable after her meeting with them to raise the equalization rate to 57 percent since the heaviest part of equalization rate is residential. She would feel more comfortable if we do the data entry update (of town property records), and we could probably pick up a few more things from there. She does want the council's approval and she discussed at the workshop that she's willing to do what this board wants her to do in helping us get back up from the hit we took," added Schrantz.
The assessor has elected to utilize the 5 percent margin that the state gives municipalities to have their equalization rate set, which will allow Portland to operate at 57 percent this tax year.
Town Attorney Charles Loveland verified with the council, "She still has this 5 percent option every year?"
Manzella answered "Yes, she has it every year."
The council elected to increase Wheeler's hours and salary for the purpose of carefully updating town property records and staying ahead of the curve so that another shift won't come out of the dark to sting taxpayers.
Wheeler will still be part time, even with an extra work day authorized by the board, will not be charging mileage to the township, and will still not receive any benefits with her position. The nearly $8,000 raise was calculated on a per hour rate against the nearly 3,200 parcels in the town of Portland.
Schrantz added "We have tried to get away with the least amount of hours, but with poor records we don't have a defense against the state and it could cost us down the road."
On top of allowing Wheeler to work an additional day, the council agreed to eventually seek bids for a recommended data collection service to assist in the updating of records.
"We would like to do this over a two year period to keep everything under the 2 percent tax cap, and this would allow for all of our over 3,000 parcels to have the data keyed in and fully recorded," stated Schrantz.
He would like to have the council meet with Wheeler to determine the bid specifications and Councilman Manzella verified with Schrantz that enough money would be left from money set aside for these purposes in 2013 to bid half of those services out this budget year, which Schrantz acknowledged there would be after discussing it with the town's financial advisor.
Wheeler's additional eight hour day will commence on Feb. 24 and the town also resolved to obtain the construction services of Miller & Sons Roofing to construct a customer service style counter for her office.
In other matters of obtaining information, the supervisor read a draft letter that he intends to mail to the state contact for the equalization rate, with Senator Catharine Young and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell receiving copies.
Schrantz is asking for a list of questions to be answered, many of which the group of citizens that have headed the equalization rate challenge have also spent their resources asking for, and include: definitions of terminology; how actual sales figures are determined; what the CAMA style of calculation is based on; and why data isn't made available to towns and taxpayers until after the rate is set.