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A Message from the President

Robert A. Criddle, IAO

President, New York State Assessors’ Association

2013-2014

Good evening everyone. 

 

It is with great humility and appreciation that I stand before you as the 69th President of the New York State Assessors’ Association.  I am honored to have the opportunity to lead our great organization at a time when both the assessment community and the local governments that it serves are facing many challenges.

Before continuing, however, I would like to acknowledge my wife Mary who made the long trek from Rochester today to be with us.  Our daughter Fiona could not be here since she is at Brooklyn College, nor could our son Robert due to high school demands.  They have been very supportive of my service on the Executive Board the past 6 years and I thank them.  I must also recognize my friends from the Monroe County Assessors’ Association in attendance this evening.  Thank you all for sharing in this event.

Some of the challenges facing local governments in New York State to varying extents are:

    · a shrinking tax base caused by deindustrialization, a decreasing and aging population, and the
      ongoing escalation of real property tax exemptions;

    · unfunded state mandates such as nonlocal-option exemptions;

    · swelling legacy costs for pensions and health care for retirees;

    · decreasing and uncertain state aid;

    · the real property tax cap; and

    · the new State Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments that is designed to uncover inefficiencies
      at the local level, likely leading to more shared services agreements and even municipal consolidation.  

It is in this challenging environment that assessors must operate – an environment where the real property tax is the major source of revenue for local governments.  Assessors must have the necessary expertise to accurately value sometimes complex real property and effectively administer a myriad of various exemptions to ensure that assessments and the real property tax burden are equitable; and to preserve taxable value.

An article in the June 2013 edition of The Economist magazine addresses what we in this room know all too well; that property taxes are terribly unpopular.  To quote, “Voters hate property taxes because they are what economists call “salient”: the burden is obvious and hard to avoid.”  In view of this, is it any wonder that the volume of informal assessment reviews, grievance complaints, SCARs, and Article 7 cases has been increasing in Upstate New York, but to nowhere near the excessive volumes found Downstate?

Assessors continue to perform their duties with utmost professionalism despite in many cases having limited staffing and resources.  Added to this are pressures caused by the elimination of STAR administration aid; limited and uncertain reassessment aid; insufficient State reimbursement for education; and the inability to directly contact ORPTS legal staff for advice and opinions.  The new Basic STAR Registration Program is the latest challenge that assessors are facing.  Several glitches and unforeseen problems have already surfaced, with more to come to be sure as the correction of errors process plays out.  We’ll get through it together as we work with Tax and Finance to revise the program.    

Needless to say, the job of the assessor can sometimes be very stressful given what has been described so far.  We all have our own ways to handle stress.  I pursue hobbies like genealogy and listening to live blues music.  Fortunately the latter hobby has a dual focus because it allows me to sample the various beers on tap at the music venues!

On your table this evening is a CD by my favorite Rochester blues players, courtesy of the Monroe County Assessors’ Association.  Enjoy! 

In keeping with our motto, ‘Remember:  An association is only as good as its members’, and recognizing that we have just entered a new period of transition with 6-year assessor reappointments effective October 1st, the Membership Committee and the Mentoring Committee will receive special focus this year. 

Successfully meeting the challenges that confront the assessment community requires a strong and active membership.  To that end, the Membership Committee will be reaching out to recruit new members and motivate current members to become active members in the New York State Assessors’ Association.  This includes assessors and their staffs.  The committee will employ our new website; Listserv; the Bulletin; Executive Board county liaisons; recruitment mailings; and online surveys to accomplish these objectives. 

Equally important to the current and long-term viability of the assessment profession and the Association are nurturing the next generation of assessors and recruiting the most qualified individuals to serve on the Executive Board, which are initiatives that Sue Otis first pushed during her presidency in the 2001 reappointment year. 

The Mentoring Committee will therefore put particular emphasis this year on efforts to mentor:  New assessors; prospective Executive Board members; and first-year Executive Board members.  New mentoring packets will be developed to aid in these endeavors as we reach out to the membership.  

Education is another key to our success.  The Institute of Assessing Officers holds nearly 30 one-day seminars per year on average, covering various topics in assessment administration, exemptions, and valuation; as well as the education offered at the Cornell Seminar on Appraising and the Annual Seminar on Assessment Administration.  This wide-ranging, high-quality education, which is supported by great instructors and education coordinators and a hardworking IAO Board of Trustees, with its longstanding Chair Cathy Conklin, is an invaluable asset to our organization. 

The New York Farm Bureau recognizes this value and supports restoring the continuing education requirement to 24 hours per year from 12.  It is also proposing a new, more intensive farm course for assessors to give them the tools they need to accurately value farm properties and administer farm structure and agricultural exemptions.  We will work to develop this alliance over the coming year.        

Members who take advantage of these educational offerings and apply what they learn to make their assessment office operations more efficient and effective are better equipped to meet today’s challenges.  This results in better service for the public and often savings for municipalities – and the taxpayer. Such individuals are also more likely to be active members and dedicated, motivated professionals.

Nowhere was this more evident than the tremendous response of the membership in contacting their state legislators and the Governor to help get RPTL Section 324 reinstated and restore a State appeals process for unwarranted local disciplinary actions against assessors.  Despite the fact that the appeals process would afford those in the unique position of assessor some degree of much needed insulation from local political pressures and has its origin in the landmark Assessment Improvement Act of 1970, the Governor vetoed Assembly Bill Number 4070.  This is very unfortunate and disheartening to say the least.  Nevertheless, we must now move on as the Executive Board and Legislative Committee continues to reach out to you and focuses our efforts in pursuing the 2013-2014 Legislative Agenda.      

In closing, as the poet Emerson said, “Difficulties exist to be surmounted.”  Although we face many significant challenges, I am confident that efforts to grow, nurture, mentor, and educate the membership will make us a stronger organization better able to serve the assessment community, local governments, and the public. As we approach the 75th anniversary of the New York State Assessors’ Association, let us continue to rise above our challenges and succeed! 

Thank you again for the opportunity to serve you.