Westerlo’s new assessor, Garth Slocum

WESTERLO — Following a controversial move to not reappoint long-time assessor Peter Hotaling, and after its first choice to replace him declined the position, the Westerlo Town Board has waded out from the quagmire with its new appointment, Garth Slocum, who will begin his term on Jan. 1, 2020.

Slocum holds a juris doctorate from Albany Law School and has decades of assessor and appraisal experience. His first assessor job began in January 1996 for the town of Sand Lake, in Rensselaer County. 

Since then, Slocum has worked for Hudson, in Columbia County; Ghent, where he now lives, also in Columbia County; and Clinton, in Dutchess County. Currently, he is an assessor for Pleasant Valley, in Dutchess County; Lexington, in Greene County; and, soon, Westerlo.

“[Garth] probably had the most experience of all,” Acting Supervisor William Bichteman told The Enterprise last week, referring to the three candidates, including Hotaling, who applied for the job.

The post was advertised with a $20,000 annual salary and no benefits.

 “The work is easy for me,” said Slocum, who also practices criminal and family law through his solo firm in Ghent. 

“But that’s winding down,” he said of his law practice. “I think all I have left are two court appearances.”

While the office-hours Westerlo set for its assessors last September will require Slocum to be in Westerlo more days than he’s required for his other towns, he seems unbothered.

“It’s more days but they’re not full days,” Slocum said. “It’s just two mornings and a night.”

For Pleasant Valley, Slocum said he’s in his office for one full day and one half day. In Lexington, it’s one full day.

“For doing my part of the job, it’s not beneficial,” Slocum said of working from town halls. “However, the taxpayers like it.”

Slocum explained that, while residents of the towns he works in can call him and have their questions answered and problems dealt with all the same, people still seem to value face-to-face interaction with town officials.

“They like it that they can come in to talk to you,” Slocum said. 

An issue looming over Westerlo’s is its abysmally low equalization rate, which, this year, was less than 1-percent. Equalization rates measure assessed values against total market values, with a rate of 100% meaning the property was assessed at its full value.

Typically, a third of a town’s properties go up in value, a third go down, and a third remain the same. In a skewed system, like Westerlo’s, where townwide revaluation hasn’t been done in decades and the town exceeds the equity assessment standard set by the state, newcomers typically pay an unfair share of taxes.

“Revals are very expensive,” said Slocum. “They usually cost $80 per parcel.”

That cost, along with the misguided belief that higher property values mean higher taxes, portends an ugly debate when revaluation is brought up for discussion at a town board meeting.

“When the town wants to revaluate, you’ll know,” said Slocum. “People will be pissed.”

But that’s not top of mind for the new assessor, who says the equalization rate isn’t as important as factors like the price-related differential, which measures the difference between the market price and selling price against a weighted average, and the coefficient of dispersion, which is essentially the standard deviation of those differentials. Those are numbers he’ll explore once his term begins. 

“I could care less if we’re assessed at 20-percent, 50-percent, or 100-percent as long as everyone’s being treated fairly,” said Slocum.

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