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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 3, 2008

GOP pushes point: Assessment on town agenda at last

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Since January, the two-man minority on the split-party town board has been calling for a property-assessment discussion and part of it will be had on July 8.

“We’ll have the discussion,” Councilman Warren Redlich, who has been requesting the item, said yesterday.  “It won’t be a complete discussion without the assessor’s office.”

Redlich, a Republican, joined the town board, with fellow Republican Mark Grimm, in January after the pair ousted two incumbent Democrats in the fall elections with a campaign focused on assessment reform.  Since taking his seat on the board, Redlich has made several requests for a discussion of the assessment process, all of which have been voted down by the Democratic majority.

“I would like to state to Mr. Redlich and Mr. Grimm for the record, there is not a problem with the assessments in the town of Guilderland and never has been,” Assessor Carol Wysomski told the town board at its last meeting.  “The process is not broken in this town and never was.”

In a June 27 e-mail to Redlich, she informed him that she would be away on July 8, the date of the meeting.

“It’s a shame that Supervisor [Kenneth] Runion is playing games,” Redlich said.  “He knew she wasn’t going to be there and he scheduled the discussion anyway.”

Runion said yesterday that he had no recollection of when he learned that Wysomski would be on vacation.

“If Mr. Redlich thinks… the assessment process is broken… I think it’s incumbent on him to make his point… whether the assessor is there or not,” Runion said.

Wysomski will return on July 15 and retire 10 days later — the town has advertised the post on its website, Runion said, and has received several applications.

“There is no one on my staff who would be qualified to discuss the 2005 Revaluation or the process of,” Wysomski wrote in her e-mail, informing Redlich of her absence.  “That is my sole responsibility as the assessor.”

“If anybody in that office wants the job of assessor,” Redlich said, “they better be ready to step up to that microphone on July 8… because they’re telling the voters they’re not qualified” if they don’t.

Fair share?

On June 25, Redlich sent an e-mailed list to town board members detailing properties that he had identified as those with low assessments.

“They threw down the glove,” Redlich said of Runion and the Democratic majority.  They asked for 20 properties, he said, gesturing to the list, “here’s 22.”

Most are along Western Avenue and Carman Road and he’s not certain that they are all unfairly low, he said, but he’d like to understand the process that assigns the value.

The residential parcels are assessed by Wysomski’s office and the commercial properties, of which there were 486 assessed in the last revaluation in 2005, were done by Hafner Valuation Group.  According to the state’s Office of Real Property Services, there are 411 commercial parcels in Guilderland.

Hafner “only did improved properties, not vacant land,” said Michael Ardman, an appraiser for the Latham company who worked on Guilderland’s revaluation.  There are three approaches that he uses to assess commercial land, Ardman said — sales approach, income approach, and cost approach.  Usually, he uses one as the primary source and another as the secondary to come up with a value.

A few of the parcels on Redlich’s list had been the subject of a February press release sent by Grimm, who runs a consulting business. 

A 15.6-acre property on Route 20 is assessed at $80,600 and a 2.5-acre piece of land, which is split into two separate parcels, across the street is assessed at $483,500.  The smaller parcel, at the corner of Route 146 which had been the site of Polito’s bar, has frontage on both routes 20 and 146, which is one reason that its assessment is higher, Wysomski said in March.  On the other side of the road, the larger property, which is zoned for local business to a depth of 205 feet and multiple residential for the remainder, has 488 feet of frontage on Route 20.

“Location, location, location,” Wysomski said of the disparity between the two assessments.  Further, she said, the part of Western Avenue that the large piece of land sits on has a blind turn.

“There’s no good ingress, egress,” she said, so it’s not well suited for development.

“I don’t agree with that,” Redlich said last week.  “I think that’s completely unbelievable.”  He pointed out that, on the other side of the road, attorney Paul Wein had sold about an acre adjacent to his law office to developer Troy Miller for $183,500 in February.

The problem with having commercial property assessed low is that homeowners make up the difference, Redlich said.  A person can make the case to the town on Grievance Day if he feels his home is assessed too high, Redlich said, but he can’t grieve someone else’s property being assessed too low.

“Why isn’t he paying his full share of taxes?” he asked, referring to an example on Route 20, a gas station located near Crossgates Mall that he says is assessed for $350,000.

Although some of the properties about which Redlich is concerned have buildings, most are vacant parcels.  “If you start to over-assess vacant land… you’re going to see… over development,” Runion said yesterday.  He went on to say that there are advantages to keeping some land empty in town, since it doesn’t require services, like schools or ambulances.

According to Redlich, though, if people can afford to hold on to vacant land because it has low taxes as a result of a low assessment, it ties up the land and prevents “good development.”  He first noticed what he saw as assessment discrepancies when he was looking for land on which to build his law office a few years ago, he said.  Some of the properties he looked at were assessed for a couple of hundred thousand dollars, but were on the market for more than half a million, he said.

Most of the homes in town are probably assessed correctly; “it’s in the ballpark,” said Redlich.  But when the vacant parcels are assessed low, “the end result is that homeowners pay more,” he said, because “some aren’t paying their fair share.”

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