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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 11, 2008
By Saranac Hale Spencer
GUILDERLAND John Macejka Jr. oversaw the first revaluation in the history of Rotterdam and he will likely conduct the next one in Guilderland.
Supervisor Kenneth Runion plans to recommend Macejka for the assessor’s post since the long-time assessor, Carol Wysomski, retired. He was one of three candidates interviewed by the town board on Sept. 2 and, Runion said, he is the most qualified. Runion, a Democrat, is on the board’s majority.
“I had been around it all my life,” Macejka said yesterday of how he became interested in assessments and ended up as a New York State certified assessor.
His father had been the assessor for 35 years in Rotterdam, where Macejka was born and raised, he said.
Macejka began in the assessor’s office in 1995, after 14 years in state government.
“I worked for the Cuomo Administration,” he said of Mario Cuomo, who was New York’s governor from 1983 to 1994. “When Cuomo was defeated, 10,000 employees were out of jobs.”
Macejka entered the Rotterdam office as a real property tax service aid and, in 2003, he was appointed to the assessor’s post by Democratic Supervisor John Paolino, he said.
The town board at the time ordered a town-wide revaluation, a project undertaken by GAR Associates and managed by Macejka.
“Everything was, I believe, very transparent,” he said of the revaluation process, which drew some criticism from property owners.
Rotterdam was incorporated 50 or 60 years ago, he guessed, and there is no record of a revaluation.
“In Rotterdam, they hadn’t done it in 50 years…” Wysomski said of the recent revaluation, “so they had to have an outside firm.”
When Guilderland undertook the process in the 1980s, it also hired a firm. Since then, Wysomski’s office handled the revaluations, roughly every five years, which is a charge that she feels comfortable leaving to Macejka.
“He’s excellent,” she said yesterday. “He would have been at the top of my list.”
“Macejka may be the best person for the job,” said Republican Councilman Warren Redlich, who campaigned successfully to unseat an incumbent Democrat a year ago on a platform of assessment reform, frequently saying that the assessment process is broken.
During his interview with the Guilderland Town Board, Macejka answered questions well, Redlich said, including a question about how a townwide revaluation should be handled, to which he answered that all properties in the town should be assessed, rather than just a portion of them. Redlich had accused the Guilderland assessor’s office of examining only some vacant, agricultural, and commercial properties in the 2005 revaluation.
Redlich isn’t committed to Macejka, he said. Another candidate has potential, he said. He added that Macejka might be the most qualified since he is the only applicant who has worked as an assessor.
“I didn’t want to leave,” Macejka said, referring Rotterdam Supervisor Steven Tommasone’s decision not to re-appoint him to the assessor’s post. Tommasone declined comment this week.
“In a lot of cases, it’s a political football,” Macejka said of the revaluation process. “…I’m the victim of a political football.”
“Everyone I’ve talked to said it was a political thing,” Runion said, paraphrasing what Macejka’s references had said. He declined to name the references.
“It’s not unlike our Republicans who attacked Carol Wysomski,” he said. “That’s how I view it.”
“My old boss said, ‘When you start to take criticism personally, it’s time,’” Wysomski said in March of a contributing factor to her decision to retire, which became effective in July.
“I’ve been here 37 years this is the first time they’re using assessments as a game plan,” she said of last year’s campaign.
“The assessment dispute was never partisan,” Redlich responded through The Enterprise. “I want an assessor who is independent of the politics.”
Since Macejka wasn’t re-appointed in Rotterdam, the father of two has been unemployed. “I’ve scoured the help wanted,” he said. “I’ve been on every avenue looking for employment.” He was pleased to find that the town of Guilderland was hiring an assessor and says that he plans to move to the town if he’s hired, a requirement of the job.
Each of the two towns, Rotterdam and Guilderland, have roughly the same number of parcels; Macejka estimated that Rotterdam has 13,000 and Wysomski said that Guilderland has about 12,364. The municipalities also use the same software program in the assessment offices, a similarity that Democratic Councilwoman Patricia Slavick noted when saying that she felt Macejka is well qualified for the job.
“He would come in and hit the ground running,” she said last night.
Republican Councilman Mark Grimm also acknowledged Macejka’s “level of experience” as compared to the other two candidates, but said that he had some reservations about his history in Rotterdam and would like to look into that further. Grimm also added, “I think we ought to open up the process,” which is a phrase he often used in the months preceding Police Chief Carol Lawlor’s appointment this spring. He had been critical of the Democratic majority of the town board for not advertising the position more widely.
Democratic Councilman Paul Pastore could not be reached for comment.
“Things seem to be stabilized,” Runion said, referring to the equalization rate and real-estate values over the last year. So, he said, the next revaluation will probably be in 2012, since it’s a two-year process.
If appointed, the assessor would start work on Sept. 22 at a salary of $53,500, he said.
As far as whether the town would opt to hire a firm or have Macejka handle the revaluation in-house, Runion said that would be discussed at a later date. Wysomski had handled the residential assessments in her office and the town contracted with an outside firm, Hafner Valuation, for the commercial assessments.
Since Guilderland has more staff than Rotterdam in the assessor’s office and it has updated data, Macejka feels confident that he could handle the assessments.
Of the things he is proud of from his tenure in the Rotterdam office, he said, “Under my tutelage… as assessor, we were successful in defending the assessment” for a General Electric property, worth between $135 and $139 million. “I’m quite comfortable in courts… defending my assessments,” he said, referring to the GE appeals.
“I’m proud of that,” he said. “I certainly worked in the best interest of the taxpayers.”
The property in Guilderland with the highest assessed value is Crossgates Mall, which is worth $247,302,800, Wysomski said in March. Built in 1983, the mall expanded in 1993 and contested its assessment every year since its addition except for when it missed a deadline in 2001 until it reached a settlement with the town and the school district in 2005. Hafner assessed the mall, Wysomski said. “They had given me a low end and a high end. I went down the middle.”
The settlement removed the possibility of litigation for five years, which is on the horizon, and, after that, Pyramid Cos., which owns the mall, may, again, challenge its assessment. Of the taxes that the mall pays, Wysomski said, “It really has been a savings to people in the town having Crossgates there.”
“We have Rotterdam Square Mall,” Macejka said. “Obviously not as big as Crossgates.”
Of the possibility of Macejka succeeding her, Wysomski said, “I am feeling so good because I can leave there knowing that all the work we’ve done can carry on.”