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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 29, 2009
By Saranac Hale Spencer and Zach Simeone
RENSSELAERVILLE Four candidates are vying for two spots in the assessors’ office the town has a total three assessors, each serving four-year terms.
Republican Donna Kropp and Democrat Peter Hotaling are incumbents. They are being challenged by Republican Michael Weber and Democrat Dennis Pitts.
A full revaluation of property hasn’t been done since 1997, so candidates were asked if they thought it was necessary to do and, if so, whether the town should hire an outside firm to do the work or handle it in-house.
Also, a group of residents calling themselves the Concerned Citizens for Ethical Government have claimed that tax rates in Rensselaerville are too high, to which Jeff Pine, an assessor, responded that there were too many factors not taken into account by the group. Candidates were asked if they thought the town’s tax rates were too high.
Michael Weber, 72, has lived in Rensselaerville since 1988 and says that he is running to give residents more fair and equitable assessments and to offer an assessment office that is more responsive to people.
“When someone comes in with a question in my business, I explain it to them; they don’t do that,” said Weber of the assessors. He’s worked as a real estate agent for almost 30 years, Weber said, and he’s certified as an assessor and appraiser. He has served on the board of assessment review for two terms.
“The heart and soul of taxes is that people feel they’re being treated fairly,” he said. “It’s not rocket science, but I don’t know why they don’t properly explain things to people. If you want people to have faith in their government, people have to understand why their tax rates are as they are.”
The town should do a revaluation, Weber said. The county recommends that municipalities go through re-assessment every four to five years, he said. “Unfortunately, to be equitable to everyone, it has to be done periodically,” he concluded, but he would be willing to use “some short-cut way, if there’s another way to do it without going through that expense.”
Ideally, the town would have an outside organization complete the work, he said, but it is a cost that must be weighed.
Weber pointed to outdated assessments as part of the problem with tax rates noted by the Concerned Citizens for Ethical Government.
“In some cases they are; in some cases they’re not,” he said of the tax rates being too high. “This is the problem when you go so long without having a reassessment.”
Democrat Dennis Pitts has served on Rensselaerville’s wind committee and is active in local farmers’ markets.
He could not be reached for comment.
Hudson River Valley Wineries, a blog by Carlo De Vito, says Pitts is a professional nursery manager who believes in local sustainable agriculture and is a partner in Preston Hollow Vineyards, which is keeping alive great hybrid grapes developed both in France and in the Hudson Valley over the last century-and-a-half.
Pitts came from a family of gardeners and landscapers, De Vito writes, and studied landscape architecture at the University of California at Los Angeles extension; he has experience in landscape design, site planning, and greenhouse propagation.
The online catalog for Preston Hollow Nursery, located on Route 145 in the hamlet of Preston Hollow, provides a catalog of “unique wine grape varieties that are generally not available from other nurseries, but which make quality wines.”
Donna Kropp, a 57-year-old Rensselaerville native, is making her second run for assessor.
“I ran first because I felt I needed to get more involved with the community,” she said. Kropp is seeking another term because, she says, “People feel their taxes are based on their assessment, and it is, but the bottom line is the budget. If the budget is not taken care of, then taxes continue to go up.” She pointed out that, since the town’s last revaluation was in 1997, most people’s property value hasn’t changed since then.
There are pros and cons to doing a revaluation now, she said, adding that it was good the town didn’t do one when she first took office four years ago, since property values have gone down since then.
The town should handle as much of the re-assessment process as it can, should it go through the process, Kropp said. “We should have a better understanding of the inventory that’s out there, but I do realize that it’s extremely time consuming and all of us that are currently assessors have full-time jobs elsewhere,” said Kropp, who works as a computer software support assistant at Hudson Valley Community College.
As a taxpayer, she said, she agrees that residents are paying too much in taxes. “I think it gets back to the budget where you have to be realistic and cut spending,” she said, adding that the figures supplied by the Concerned Citizens for Ethical Government likely don’t include all the elements they should. “I looked at them,” she said of the numbers, “but didn’t really understand how they were coming up with the dollar amounts they were coming up with.”
Peter Hotaling, 54, is the sole assessor for the town of Westerlo, an appointed position, and he was elected as an assessor in Rensselaerville in 1997.
“I came aboard when we were doing a re-val in 1997, I’ve had my hands on it all this time and I think we’ve done a good job in keeping equity in the roll,” he said of why he’s running again. “Equity in the roll is more important than my equalization rate the equity is saying I’m fair across the board,” he said.
Hotaling would like to feel confident that the real estate market will stay flat for a while before doing a revaluation. “I’d hate to do a re-val project and then see the property values have anymore dramatic increases before we do it, so our results could last,” he said.
In his experience, Hotaling said, assessors work with a contractor, “so you’re both working together on it.” That means there are more people contributing and it’s cheaper for the town than having just the contractor do the work, he said.
“I’d say our taxes are high, yes, but I think they’re in line with the other municipalities around this town,” he said of the charges from the Concerned Citizens for Ethical Government. Hotaling worked on the response dismissing the group’s claim with Jeff Pine, he said. Of high taxes, Hotaling said, “It’s all based on the budgets. Whether it’s school budgets, town budgets, or county budgets. I could cut their assessments in half and it would theoretically double their taxes, so it’s got to come from the budget.”