[Return to Home Page] [Subscriptions] [Newsstands] [Contact Us] [Archives]

New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 11, 2006


Property-value complaints "
‘Call assesor by Friday’

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — As New Scotland continues with its first town-wide revaluation in 10 years, some residents received relief last week; 637 parcels across town received a reduction in assessment from their preliminary value announced in February. These adjustments were made after a month of 915 informal hearings and another month of the assessor, Julie Nooney, re-calculating and investigating claims.

Bob Kitchen, a consultant hired by the town for the revaluation, in response to The Enterprise inquiries, has figured the latest statistics.

The overall change in assessed value for all classes of parcels from 2005 to 2006 is now 66 percent rather the 71 percent calculated in February, he reports.

There are 3,997 parcels in town; 3,047 of them are residential. The value of property with houses had increased in value by 80 percent with the assessor’s preliminary numbers. Now, after the most recent adjustments, residential parcels have increased in value by 77 percent from 2005.

Of the 637 reductions, which were announced through letters sent to property owners in the mail, 530 were to residential parcels, 43 for commercial lots, 52 for vacant land, 10 for farms, and 2 for utility parcels.

The town’s website has also been updated, now listing the new values on its searchable database.

The average reduction for the 530 residential properties was 14.5 percent from the preliminary assessed value, Kitchen said.

Sarah Kavanaugh’s home and 24.7 acres on Price Lane on Wolf Hill which The Enterprise has been following as she has challenged her assessment, and challenged the way that values were determined across town, had a preliminary assessment in February of $448,000, a 196 percent increase from her 2005 assessment of $151,000. Her newest adjusted value as of May 1 is $255,700, practically cut in half. Her data inventory lists her house style as "Colonial" now rather than "Log," which was one of her big contentions.

"The largest group of residential reductions occurred in the Bethlehem School District section of town," Kitchen said. The property values there had increased by 91 percent in February. Last week 197 parcels, or 29 percent of the parcels in the Bethlehem School District, were reduced. The average reduction there was 17 percent of the preliminary value. So now, Bethlehem district parcels have a change of 83 percent from last year instead of 91 percent.

With the May 1 adjustments, 282 received a reduced value in the Voorheesville School District, which is 13 percent of the total possible, and the average dollar reduction was 13 percent, Kitchen reports. Parcels in the Voorheesville School District had a 77 percent change in assessed value from 2005 and now their change has decreased to 75 percent.

Some property owners received letters in the mail last week unexpectedly; they had not attended informal hearings but received a change in assessment anyway, Nooney said. Sixty-eight parcels where given higher values, because of something that was brought to Nooney’s attention during the informal hearings or in driving around town, discovering new construction that was not accounted for before, she said.

On Wednesday of this week, the board of assessment review began formal grievance hearings. Property owners who believe they have a case for their assessments to be reduced bring their grievances to a panel of five citizens appointed by the town board. Residents argue for a reduced assessment, and Nooney, on the other side of the room, defends why her listed value is accurate, and "reflects the market," she said.

If people are satisfied with their new May 1 values, then they are finished and do not need to request a formal hearing.

The assessor’s office is now accepting grievance applications from those who would like to continue to fight their assessment.

Normally, there is just one day for grievances to be heard — Grievance Day — which is set by New York State to be May 23 this year.

New Scotland this year, anticipating a heavy load of grievances, has set aside a handful of additional days for the assessment board of review to meet.

"We are strongly encouraging appointments," Nooney said. She wants to prevent what happened in Guilderland last year, she said, where the line was out the door on Grievance Day and, after waiting all day, not everyone was heard.

If residents want to be scheduled for one of the alternative dates, they have to call the assessor’s office by this Friday, May 12, to reserve a slot. If they do not call by Friday, then they will have to show up on May 23 and wait in line.

Ideally, Nooney would also like people to submit their applications and supporting documentation by Friday so she can review the information and perhaps settle a few grievances without having to go to the board, which she has been able to do in a few cases already, she said.

Property owners are not able to pursue legal recourse in the courts if they have not first filed a grievance with the board of assessment review by the due date of May 23.


V’ville school workers get raises

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — Bus drivers, custodians, clerks, secretaries, cafeteria workers, and all other employees of the school district who are not teachers or business-office staff will receive a 4.25 percent raise next school year and then another 4.75 percent raise in salary for 2007-08.

The worker’s union, United Employees of Voorheesville, and the district administration issued a memorandum of agreement after only five negotiation meetings. The three year contract, running from July, 2003 to June 30, 2006, has been extended for two additional years, with no adjustment beyond the new attached salary schedule representative of the agreed-upon raises.

The negotiations were "very positive," Chris Allard, the UEV president, told The Enterprise this week. She is a bus driver for the district. This year, the whole process was a "very pleasant experience," she said.

Allard had sent out a questionnaire to all her members, 103 people, and they agreed overwhelmingly that the approach to take this year was to "not to open up our contract"just go for the money," Allard said.

And the raises she secured as their negotiator were fair, she said.

"I thought it was the best we were going to get," she added. She had rejected the district’s initial offer, Allard said.

In 2006-07, the starting salary for a bus driver will be $12.20 an hour; food-service helper, $9.88 an hour; typist, $11.54; teacher’s aid, $10.96; teaching assistant, $12.74; and a custodian, $10.13.

The last-tiered step, or the highest workers in these positions can be paid next year is: $15.21 for a bus driver; $12.32 for a food service helper; $14.38 for a typist; $13.66 for a teacher’s aid; $15,87 for a teaching assistant; and $12.62 for a custodian.

Negotiations

The school board, on Monday night after an executive session, unanimously approved the memorandum of agreement . The UEV also voted on the memorandum on Thursday and approved the agreement with a 68-to-4 vote.

This was Allard’s first time negotiating with the new superintendent, Linda Langevin, and she publicly made a statement at the school board meeting expressing that it was a "pleasure" to negotiate with Langevin.

"She was very receptive to everything," Allard later told to The Enterprise. Most of the negotiations were one-on-one sessions with herself and Langevin, Allard said. The school’s negotiator, Andy Nolte, and the UEV’s New York State United Teachers’ representative each attended at least one meeting.

NYSUT is the largest union in the state and is a federation of more than 900 local unions, representing school employees and other education and health professionals, including college faculty.

Nolte, Langevin, and Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell were the only people sitting on the district’s side of the negotiation table, Langevin told The Enterprise on Tuesday. The two school board members assigned to negotiations are only brought in when there is a change in the contract language being discussed, Langevin said, such as a change in insurance or health benefits.

However, Langevin said, she kept the board members apprised of what was going on, and told them the UEV was only interested in getting raises, which the board supported.

These raises do two things, board member James Coffin said. They "bring everybody up a little higher" and makes the positions at Voorheesville more competitive to secure employees for needed jobs, he said. Coffin is the board vice president and one of the board members who would be involved in contract negotiations.

He said the board was comfortable not dealing with the nuts and bolts of the UEV contract his year, because there are a number of major employment issues on the horizon and the board members first need to get their heads together and map out a plan.

"It’s just a matter of timing," Coffin said. The board was consumed this year with other things, including legal problems and transitioning to a new superintendent. There is just so much that can be done in one year, Coffin said. Employment issues are a heavy duty, he said.

During budget sessions, it was suggested employees contribute more to health insurance and drug plans. The board first needs to do the research and understand the issues, Coffin said this week.

"There are changes on the horizon for employment," Coffin said in both the private and public sectors, and the board wasn’t going to act prematurely, he said.

Allard said she’s glad the contract negotiations are over for now and secure for another two years, plus the UEV is happy that the teachers’ union will now be the forerunner in setting the precedent for employment benefits.

The UEV contract was the first to stipulate workers had to pay 10 percent of their health-insurance, Allard said.

Langevin said she’ll be talking to the teachers at the end of next year.

There are 103 members of the UEV and only two people who could do not belong to the union; they still have to pay the dues, even if they don’t want to be a member and gain a right to vote, Allard said. It’s a "closed shop," she said, which was something worked in a couple contracts ago. Workers who don’t want to join the union have an agency fee deducted directly from their paychecks by the school district.

In arguing for raises, Allard said, she used other small school-district rates for comparison, including Berne-Knox-Westerlo, Shalmont, and Duanesburg. Allard does not compare workers’ salaries to North Colonie, Guilderland, Bethlehem, or any other large district, she said.

The UEV is a unique bargaining unit, Allard said, because it covers many interest groups; her union has to address concerns of teaching assistants and mechanics at the same time. Some years, the union pushes for large raises for particular positions because of demand, or spots that have been difficult to fill.

"This time I felt, ‘Let’s get some money in for everybody,’" Allard said. In the next round of negotiations, two years from now, Allard said, she plans to send out a survey again — this time asking members to write down the concerns they have, to have them addressed, when the contract will be re-worked.


Resident concerned about septic overflow

By Michelle O’Riley

VOORHEESVILLE — Do the stately houses lining Voorheesville’s Maple Avenue have a dirty secret in their backyards"

Wastewater overflow from septic tanks saturates the yards, near the Vly Creek, because the septic systems can no longer handle the increased levels of sewage and wastewater being produced, according to long-time village resident, Jane Gangai.

"You can see it the most after it has rained for a couple of days. The water comes right into the yard," said Gangai.

According to the village office, the homes in Salem Hills are connected to the village water and sewage system. However, other homes in the area, like those on Maple Avenue, are not connected and use private septic systems to manage their waste.

Septic systems for these homes used to be able to handle the waste products created by its residents, explained Gangai; now most homes are equipped with dishwashers and washing machines that quickly fill up and sometimes overflow the septic systems.

According to Gangai, this overflow causes over-saturation of the leach fields – an area around the septic tank where waste slowly leaks out into the ground. The seepage from this over-saturation could be running into the Vly Creek and concerns residents like Gangai.

Superintendent of the Department of Public Works William Smith said, that the village was unaware of any problems. It is the homeowners’ responsibility to maintain their septic tanks, Smith said, and, if there is a problem, it would be an issue for the Albany County Health Department.

Rick Georgeson, a spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Conservation, said, that the DEC has not received any complaints or reports of septic waste running into Vly Creek and confirmed that it would be handled by the county’s health department.

The Albany County Health Department told The Enterprise this week that it also does not have record of an issue and would not initiate an investigation unless contacted by a resident. The health department added that the village, not the county, determines the sewage needs for its homes.

According to Smith, a complex study was done of the village to determine its needs for sewage disposal. The cost to add area homes to the village system was determined by that study. However, not enough residents showed interest in paying for the usage fees so area homes were excluded from future connection to the sewage treatment plant, said Smith.

Some area residents are not interested in connecting to the village system because it would make their taxes higher, said Gangai.

Jane Gangai, now 85 years old, has lived in Voorheesville her whole life and has seen the area change from a country village into a commuter area with a steadily growing population. She understands that these changes are inevitable.

"Before I leave my children and grandchildren, I would like to know that they are going to be able to stay in Voorheesville and live as well as I did," she wrote in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, "but, unless these homes are provided with sewage and wastewater disposal, they will ultimately become worthless."


[Return to Home Page]