GUILFORD – In a resolution adopted Wednesday night following a heated public debate, the Town of Guilford abolished its board of elected assessors in favor of appointing a single person to that position.
There was a great deal of hostility at Wednesday’s meeting as town residents took the opportunity to express their opinion about the proposed town law, which would replace the municipality’s current board of three elected assessors with a sole, appointed assessor.
According to Councilman Bruce Winsor, the town started researching the option after the unexpected resignation of an assessor at the end of July. The position has yet to be filled. “We’re having a problem in this township,” said Winsor. “In the last twelve years, we have only twice had three people on the board.” This does not include someone who was elected to the position, but resigned before ever taking the oath of office.
“The system is not working right now,” Winsor added, citing the town’s equalization rate of 56.5 percent.
Bias and inaccuracies common under the current system were echoed by several residents, including Lianne Sprague, who sits on the Board of Assessors Review Board. She reported an occasion where she “subbed” on grievance day. “There were a lot of discrepancies,” said Sprague. “Even the square footage on some of the houses wasn’t right.”
More than 84 percent of the state’s municipalities are already served by a sole appointed assessor, said Jeffrey Bartholomew, regional manager for the New York Sate Office of Real Property Services in Syracuse.
A 1971 state law actually requires this model, Bartholomew explained, but an intentional loop hole allowed municipalities like Guilford to opt out and keep their three-member elected board.
The ORPS regional manager was interrupted several times as he gave a brief presentation about the benefits of this state-advocated assessment model. In addition to the sole assessor option being more efficient, Bartholomew listed greater accountability, better service to property owners and a lower overall cost as those key benefits.
He also cited the increasing level of knowledge and skills needed to perform the important role. While the town continues to elect their assessors, it is bound by law to choose from residents of the municipality. This limits the pool of qualified candidates for the position.
Susan McIntyre, one of the town’s current assessors, spoke in support of the proposed law. “How can the town be assured that the best people are doing the job of assessing when its so hard to even fill the slots with warm bodies?”..