VanWagenen on the job as Guilderland assessor

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Karen VanWagenen has worked for the town of Guilderland, first as an assessment clerk and then as a bookkeeper, for nearly three decades. She was appointed, this week, to a six-year term as the permanent assessor.

GUILDERLAND — It took just less than a year for the town to appoint a new permanent assessor, and, in the end, the hire came from within.

Karen VanWagenen was appointed in February 2013, after former assessor John Macejka was fired abruptly in March 2012. Carol Wysomski, the assessor immediately preceding Macejka, served in the interim.

Macejka sued the town, and settled out of court; he is currently the assessor in Rotterdam.

“I have been here forever,” said VanWagenen, who grew up in town; she has a business degree from Maria College, and a master’s degree in anthropology from the University at Albany.

She started working as a part-time assessment clerk in 1985, and began working full-time in the assessor’s office in 1997. She was an assessment clerk until 2009, when she became a bookkeeper for the town.

When VanWagenen heard that the town was looking for a new assessor, she told Supervisor Kenneth Runion that she would be interested in the job.

“I said I wouldn’t mind being the assessor, since I had a lot of experience, and knew everybody,” she said. “He mulled it over and told me to apply.”

She interviewed with the town board, and was appointed. She was re-appointed to a six-year term at a town board meeting on Tuesday night.

“I’d worked in the assessor’s office for so long, it felt like I had really good training,” said VanWagenen.

She worked under three different assessors — Shirley Royak, Wysomski, and Macejka, though she was a clerk in Macejka’s office for less than a year before she became a bookkeeper.

VanWagenen had already attended some of the courses required to become certified as an assessor, but not for credit, so she is in the process of becoming certified now.

“There have been some challenges,” she said, of her time in the office so far. “Things have changed a bit, including laws and procedures, so it’s mostly catching up.”

She handled her first Grievance Day, in May, and said it went well.

“We kept the appointments,” she said, of a procedural change Macejka made, to have people schedule appointments rather than walk in and wait to challenge their assessments.

“It made things flow a bit more smoothly,” she said. “If someone didn’t show up for their appointment, we were able to fit in a few walk-ins.”

Ninety-six people filed grievances, she said, and, of those, 30 have decided to take their grievances to small-claims court.

“Hopefully, we can keep everyone as happy as possible,” said VanWagenen. “It really has been quite enjoyable; I get to talk to residents, and I get along well with my staff.”

Over the next few months, she expects to be challenged by finishing her coursework while trying to get town work completed at the same time, but, she said, she has a “very good staff who can handle things” when she is not there. The office is busy, she said, due to a lot of new construction in town.

“We’re trying to make it so residents don’t feel intimidated by this office,” VanWagenen concluded. “We’re not bad people, really, we’re not.”

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