Ethics case investigated assessor giving parents exemptions
RENSSELAERVILLE — The town’s head assessor, Donna Kropp, was the subject of an ethics complaint earlier this year, brought by former head assessor Jeffry Pine, for having assessed her parents’ property with tax exemptions.
“I believe it was correct, but I was just learning the procedures,” said Kropp when first asked about the issue. “It’s possible an error was made. It’s possible an error can be [made] at anytime.”
She added yesterday, “I did process the exemptions. If a mistake was made, it was not made intentionally or deliberately. My work was to be reviewed by the other assessors.”
The ethics board, hearing its first-ever case, determined the complaint was unfounded. Kropp’s father, Robert Lansing, a Republican, was a former supervisor of Rensselaerville who died in September, 2010.
Pine — a Democrat ousted in the last election, now running against Republican Kropp to be assessor in the upcoming election — claims the exemptions for 35 to 50 percent of property taxes were calculated in error over three years they were both in office. Exemptions are given — according to state-set parameters adopted locally — on a sliding scale for low-income households.
The town board in September 2012 adopted the recommendation to take no action against Kropp who, during the period of the exemptions, worked with Pine.
“We were missing information within the law to help us make a decision,” Georgette Koenig, co-chair of the board of ethics told The Enterprise in March.
Pine said he made copies of the documents, showing low-income senior tax exemptions for Kropp’s parents from 2008 to 2010, that the board of ethics couldn’t obtain because they were missing from the assessors’ office. He, Kropp, and assessor Michael Weber maintain that they did not take the documents from the assessors’ office needed to confirm whether or not the income used for the low-income senior exemption was low enough to qualify.
Weber, also running in the upcoming election on the Democratic line, applied for a change of enrollment from Republican to Democrat. He had won his current four-year term on the Republican line. Pine was the contractor for Weber’s home.
Kropp suggested Pine, once the head assessor, confronted her because he lost the 2011 election, and wanted to be appointed after her resignation. Pine denies this and said he wanted Kropp to pay the town around $2,600 exempted from her parents’ property. He said he discovered the erroneous exemptions in the spring of 2011.
“When I didn’t get elected, I said, ‘Well, no one’s going to be there to check her,’ and that’s when I decided to bring it forward,” said Pine this week.
“No matter what way he did it, it would be looked at as wrong,” said Weber. “In other words, if he did it before the election, it was to win the election; if he did it after the election, it was because of sour grapes.”
Kropp said procedures in the office have been changed where assessors now do not work on their family members’ properties.
“We’ve instituted that all of us have to review all of the exemptions and paperwork for preparation of the assessment roll,” said Kropp of procedural changes that “weren’t necessarily the result of the ethics situation.”
During Pine’s time in the position, he said, assessors were allowed to evaluate family members’ properties.
“It would have been fine if she did it right, but she didn’t do it right,” said Pine. He later added, “If you want to do another family member’s assessment, at least have another assessor look at it and sign off.”