Little Falls Mayor Robert Peters anticipates the possible hiring of a city assessor and data collector will result in a high turnout for Tuesday’s meeting of the Common Council.
Speaking during a telephone interview Monday afternoon, Peters said he is in favor of hiring Joy Presta to fill the position that will carry dual responsibilities and end a contract with the Herkimer County Real Property Tax Service, which has been providing assessment services to the city.
“I said it when she was notified she would be laid off by the county and I will say it again now, I believe the city should bring Joy on to fulfill these duties. Not only because of the litigation the city is involved in with the Little Falls Family YMCA, but because she has served this city for nine years and has built positive, professional relationships with residents, particularly senior citizens,” he said.
The lawsuit involves three YMCA owned properties Presta returned to the tax rolls after she determined they were not being used solely for charitable use. The properties in question are emergency and low-income housing at 43 Furnace and 544 Garden streets, and the Community Co-op which provides natural and specialty foods at discount prices at 589 Albany St.
Oneida County Supreme Court Judge Norman Seigel in November 2012 requested more information after hearing arguments in the lawsuit, with the YMCA arguing the property uses have not changed and the properties previously received tax exemption and the city arguing the assessor’s actions were right as the properties are not being used in support of the YMCA’s charitable mission.
“The judge determined there were questions of fact, so he asked for more information. That is where the lawsuit is. It has not gone to trial yet,” said Peters, adding he continues to support the action and remains hopeful the Common Council will agree to carry the lawsuit out to its end. “I firmly believe it is up to the court to decide if the city is right or wrong for returning these properties to the tax rolls. I shop at the Community Co-op, and I agree with the city’s argument that it is a business. I also agree with the YMCA’s argument that it is beneficial to the city because it draws people to Little Falls. What I don’t agree with is that the city is seeking to tax the Co-op out of existence.”
Peters referenced an open letter from the Friends of the Little Falls Family YMCA that appeared in Monday’s edition of The Times, a paid advertisement that in addition to stating the YMCA’s position, called on city residents to contact the mayor and Common Council to “urge them to withdraw the expensive, damaging and poorly conceived idea of taxing their own partner in community service ...”
Page 2 of 2 - “It is the city which put this matter on the public agenda, so we ask that you put your opinion on this matter on their agenda: Contact your city representatives and state your opinion, hopefully in support of the YMCA mission, and insist that they withdraw the proposal to tax YMCA properties, and withdraw their proposal to hire a non-resident to provide assessor-like services when the same services are already available through the county,” the Friends group’s open letter stated.
Peters on Monday said by hiring an assessor and data collector of its own, Little Falls would be able to save approximately $6,000 from its current contract with the county Real Property Tax Service.
“What the city is offering in terms of salary for this position is less than what the county pays,” he said. “Look at the municipalities that surround the city, they have their own assessor. Yes, the county does provide the service, but I see having a city assessor as a positive for Little Falls. Having a city assessor will give the council better control over the costs associated with the office. It also will ensure continuity of service, as the county won’t be able to layoff the person fulfilling these duties.”
Presta and another employee of the county Real Property Tax Service were notified in December 2012 they would be laid off as the department had been operating with a $115,010 deficit. Officials said the layoffs are anticipated to result in a savings of $50,000 in 2013 and $84,000 in 2014.
If the Common Council votes to hire an assessor, county Administrator James Wallace said a vote of the legislature will be required to cancel the city’s contract with the Real Property Tax Service.
“The legislators have been notified this could come up and to be prepared for a vote, should the city decide to hire an assessor,” Wallace said during a Monday afternoon telephone interview.
The Herkimer County Legislature is scheduled to meet for its quarterly session at 2 p.m. in the legislative chambers of the county office building at 109 Mary St., Herkimer.
The Little Falls Common Council’s meeting will take place Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.