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More activity at the assessor's office

NORTH EAST — The Town Board discussed the future of the assessor’s office during its most recent meeting last Thursday evening. The talk grew out of a Town Board concern about the assessment roll, and particularly with past consultants.

"We have a strong desire to have an end product that everyone feels is fair and equitable," town Supervisor Dave Sherman said. "We don’t want to be in a situation where the process is started and going to be unsatisfactory to who is going to be in that office."

The board then moved to increase the Board of Assessment Review from three to five people. That motion passed unanimously among the board members present.

Councilman Carl Stahovec raised the issue of agricultural assessments being out of line, and said he thought the root of that problem was the data. The board then moved to bring in an expert from Dutchess County Real Property Tax Services to come out and review the town’s tax records. That motion also passed unanimously.

"I would rather err on the side of having too many data collectors and getting the job done quicker," Councilman Dan Briggs said.

The goal is to find data collectors now and get them scheduled for training right away. The next training opportunity is in April.

A motion was made to hire an additional data collector at $14 an hour, which passed unanimously.

"I would love to see this get done as soon as possible," Sherman said, adding that it’s taking a little longer, especially in light of the fact that a new assessor will be working on the project next year when town Assessor Jon Barrett leaves office.

"While I would like to have this done as fast as possible, I think you can get things done too quickly," Briggs said, adding that perhaps the town should shoot for doing the project in 2008-09.

"I still would want to put out an ad saying we’re in need of an assessor," Stahovec said. "Someone interested in running, who would have an idea of what’s going on."

"If there’s a willingness in the public to run, I think that’s great," Councilman Dave McGhee said. "Maybe somebody will come forward and tell us they’re interested. I would rather do that than appoint somebody."

The board may have little choice, however, if election time rolls around and nobody steps forward to run for the position.

"There is a fair amount of independence that goes along with the assessor’s office, whether elected or appointed," Sherman said.

McGhee said his real concern is making sure the public can access the assessor during the week, which means putting more money in the budget to pay for more hours on the job.

In terms of time, Sherman said it would be "very tight" to get the assessment roll finalized in time for 2008.

"Everything is deadline driven," he said. "The tentative roll needs to be out by May 1, the impact notices are out by March 1, notices are printed by mid-February, etc."

"I think that’s asking a lot if we’ve got a data collector doing good and hire an outside contractor," Briggs said. "It seems like a lot of pressure to ask somebody to do. Again, it goes back to an outside contractor doing a lot of the work.

"I think it’s really asking that elected person to really be ready, but I think it would be tough for us as a board to get ready and then have the assessor say, ‘Wait a minute, I need more training,’" Briggs added.

Stahovec suggested the town be prepared when the new assessor takes over.

"We should have everything, all the data, all the records, all the legwork, done," he said.

"I’m not looking for a snap decision, but at the same time the clock is ticking," Sherman said. "If somebody has got some experience at the job they may do better than another."

"It would be nice to preliminarily have a feel if five people are running for assessor, or if nobody is running," Stahovec said. "Now the next step is, who is going to be the new assessor?"

Resident Peter Judge told the board it needed to clarify some issues before it could expect people to make a run for the office.

"At this point in time they don’t know what the office is. You’re putting the cart before the horse. You really need to define what the job is first," he said, adding that the board should consider holding a special election in July rather than waiting until January so the new assessor can get started on the assessment rolls.

Current assessor Barrett has already said he will step down if a new assessor is found before his term expires.

Judge also suggested the Town Board consider shortening the length of the assessor’s term from six years to four years. The board said it will consider his ideas.

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