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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 6, 2008
By Jo E. Prout
NEW SCOTLAND After a contentious, but award-winning, revaluation, former town assessor Julie Nooney has taken a position with Siena College. The town board accepted her resignation last month.
Nooney told The Enterprise that she left the town because her position had been “in limbo” for a year. The town board is considering combining assessment services with nearby towns, or hiring a part-time, uncertified assessor, Nooney said.
“Because of this, I was not reappointed October 1, 2007,” she said. “I stayed on with the Town as a ‘hold over’ assessor and, after just over one year without any decisions by the Town Board, I thought it was best to open up the possibility to move on. Not a decision taken lightly, but I did not like being held in limbo for so long.”
Nooney is now a development assistant at Siena College in Loudonville. She provides “high level secretarial and clerical support” to the directors of development, stewardship, major gifts, and gift planning in the development and external affairs department.
“I chose this position because Siena College opens up education opportunities and advancement,” she said. “It also has a reputation as a great place to work. I think it ironic that I now work in a place where people want to give money for scholarships, buildings, programs, etc.”
Former Supervisor Edward Clark recommended Nooney for the assessor position in October 2002. Before that, she had worked for the town since March 2001 as the building and assessment clerk.
“At the time she was appointed,” Clark said, “she had been working for the town a short time in that office.”
As the assessor, Clark said of Nooney, “I thought she did an extraordinarily good job while she was there.” Clark said that Nooney gave the town board good advice about property assessments.
“She upgraded the assessment department significantly,” Clark said.
“I am proud that I was able to become a certified assessor within one year,” Nooney said. “In my time as the assessor, I was able to bring the office up to today’s technology.”
She worked to place assessment data and inventory, including property photos, on the town website, she said.
“I utilized the town website to open up access to information to property owners which included, among other things, general information, home sale history, and the informal review and grievance processes,” she said.
“I successfully revaluated the town during a historical housing market boom,” Nooney said. She said that most post-revaluation differences were settled within one year. “Some property owners think the assessments were too high, or their neighbors’ were too low. If the assessments were off, the numbers are definitely not reflecting it.”
Nooney said that the measure of assessments compared to sale prices is a 94-percent ratio, “which is what my preliminary analysis was showing in the sales ratio studies I did just before I left.”
“Revaluating the town after 10 years was a huge undertaking,” Nooney said. The town earned the Excellence in Equity Award from the New York State Office of Real Property Services after the revaluation, she said.
According to the ORPS, the award is granted to municipalities that qualified for state aid under annual or triennial programs for assessment rolls.
“These municipalities and assessors are to be commended for meeting high standards for assessment administration,” the ORPS website states. “State Law requires all properties in each municipality to be assessed fairly based on market value, each year. By conducting a reassessment, these municipalities are taking the necessary steps to ensure that property owners are fairly assessed and do not pay more or less than their fair share of taxes.”
Most reactions to the revaluation were negative, Nooney said.
“There is no doubt that a revaluation has an effect on an assessor,” she said. “If you can find one revaluation within New York State within the past five years that was not contentious, you win the prize. Most people had no idea what the value of their home was until they saw what it did to their tax bill. Some people were actually elated with the new value of their home. Some sold them and moved south a little earlier than they thought they could,” she said.
“The one thing I like to put into perspective for homeowners is that [neither] I nor my staff live in their house,” she said. “It is up to them to let us know why the house may not sell for what it is assessed at. A lot of residents were mad because we didn’t already know about what affected the marketability of their home.”
Nooney said that her relationship with the town board soured after the revaluation.
“The lack of support from the divided board made the process much more difficult. The lack of communication regarding property owners’ complaints made it difficult to provide good service to property owners. The lack of guidance from the board kept me chasing my tail trying to run the office,” she said.
“Members of the board all had different feelings about how the process was going,” said board member Richard Reilly, a member of the Democratic majority. “Keeping lines of communication open is always a challenge that we struggle with. The board tried to communicate with Julie on an ongoing basis.”
Nooney said that she put in 300 hours of overtime while doing the revaluation.
“When I asked for any type of compensation, monetary or time, it was denied by the town board because a few people did not like how the process went,” Nooney said. “Unfortunately, the process is mandated by the state, and anything above and beyond is up to the town board. The assessor is just the workhorse trying to get it all done according to state standards, and [working] against anyone who has to pay taxes. The only goal is to assess each property at the most likely value it would sell for on the open market.”
“We did what we thought was the fiscally responsible thing to do at the time,” Reilly said. He said that the board may have given Nooney some compensation with time, but not the entire amount she asked for, as she was a salaried employee and not required to receive overtime or compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. He said that the board wanted to be fair to taxpayers, “not… give their money away. We’re really just trying to balance.”
Conflict between town staff and the assessor’s office also played a role in why she left, she said.
“Most complaints [between offices were] regarding issues with property data. These issues were always brought up at the town board meetings, not with me, the assessor,” Nooney said. “It turns out that they did not have a good understanding of the information coded on the property record card. Sarah [Kavanaugh] implied that my office did not do its job.”
Kavanaugh, the secretary for current supervisor, Thomas Dolin, said that she began working for the town last January.
“Anybody with a problem with property assessment would deal with the assessor’s office,” Kavanaugh said. Most property owners call the assessor’s office directly and do not involve the supervisor’s office, she said. “I do my job. The assessing department does theirs,” she said.
Kavanaugh said that she complained about her property assessment in 2006, when it was assessed at $455,000. The assessment was later reduced by about $200,000, she said.
“If you review the minutes of town board meetings in March 2006, you can see anything that I said. I have spoken up as a citizen. I didn’t work here,” Kavanaugh said.
“I created a plan for [building clerk] Donna McGinnis to begin work full-time for the assessor’s office as clerk and data collector,” Nooney said. “I had hoped this would clear up any issues left hanging. Unfortunately, when the building clerk resigned for another position, the data collection position] was not re-filled. This halted the data collection process, leaving it half done. Now that a year and a half has elapsed, it will need to be done again from the beginning.
“Unfortunately, the town board has not posted the position,” Nooney continued. “The longer the process takes to hire an assessor, the greater the jeopardy of not accurately and thoroughly updating the assessments and inventory on the 2009 assessment roll.”
Nooney also said that exemption renewal information should be mailed out the first week of January.
Reilly said that the board looked at towns comparable in size to New Scotland. Many of them do not have full-time assessors, he said.
“The push now is combined services,” Reilly said. Including benefits, the cost to the town for a full-time assessor was almost $58,000. This year, the town has budgeted $20,000 for a part-time assessor, he said.
“We have to, at least, take a hard look at it and see if it works,” Reilly said. If a part-time, or shared services, approach does not work, the board can change again and hire a full-time assessor, he said.
Reilly said that he liked Nooney and her family.
“I appreciate her service for the town. I wish her well,” he said.