By LOHR McKINSTRY Press-Republican
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Under a new plan, Elizabethtown and Westport would become the first towns in Essex County to have the county do their property assessing.
A one-year test project, which has the preliminary approval of the Essex County Board of Supervisors Finance Committee, would start Oct. 1.
The two towns would pay the county $14 a parcel for assessing services, which would total about $41,000 a year.
From that, the county would hire a part-timer to do tax mapping for $18,250, pay $6,200 more in salary to promote a tax mapper in the County Real Property Tax Service to assessor, plus mileage of $1,500, for a net profit of about $15,000 a year.
The part-time tax mapper would be needed so a state-certified assessor employed by the county could spend a day in each town instead of on tax map duties.
“We’ve done a lot of research on this,” Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) said. “We’re asking the board to give us an opportunity to try this. It would have to be re-passed after a year.”
A similar resolution was passed by county lawmakers earlier this year but tabled after a third town, Willsboro, dropped out of the pact.
Real Property has three certified assessors on staff now, Connell said, and the tax mapper hired to fill in would work 19 hours a week with no benefits.
“That would fill the void when their assessors are working for us two days a week,” Connell said.
“Elizabethtown and Westport would each save approximately $3,500, versus any other direction we’ve looked at.”
He said both Westport and Elizabethtown advertised for a sole assessor recently and received several applications.
“We weren’t happy with the applicants we had,” Connell said. “Assessing is so much more complicated with digital and aerial (information).”
The appointed assessors in their towns have six-year-term appointments that expire at the end of this year.
Nearby Herkimer County is assessing for six towns, Supervisor Margaret Bartley (D-Elizabethtown) pointed out.
“There’s a trend for that,” she said.
Supervisor Roby Politi (R-North Elba) said he would support the experiment, but didn’t like the fact that the grade promotion for the current tax mapper could not be rescinded if it failed.
“The promotion stays forever,” Politi said. “I’m willing to try it for a year. I don’t like it.”
County Manager Daniel Palmer said several towns have had difficulty hiring a qualified sole assessor.
“I think ultimately you are all going to be running into those situations where you can’t find an assessor. The county has some responsibility to provide some kind of expertise as a first step.”
The state allows towns that currently have an elected board of assessors to make the switch to an appointed professional assessor by majority vote, and many have.
The committee vote was 8-0, with Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) abstaining.
“The missing piece of the puzzle is how much is it going to cost the county at the end of the day?” he said.
The next vote is at Ways and Means on Monday, with a final vote at the board’s 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 7, regular meeting in the Old County Courthouse at Elizabethtown.
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