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A Message from the President
J. Todd Wiley, IAO
President, New York State Assessors' Association

2004 - 2005

 

5 October 2004


Good evening fellow assessors, associates and friends. It is truly an honor to stand before you as the 60th President of our association. Thank you for this opportunity.

I would like to take a moment to recognize Tom Griffen, the Executive Director of the State Office of Real Property Services, Caryn Kolts, the President of the New York State County Directors’ Association, members of my Town Board, Pat Mullarkey, Sue Weyant, my wife Layna, and members of my family, as well as my entire office staff.

I offer a special thanks to Pat and Tom Frey, whose knowledge and tireless efforts are much appreciated.

There aren’t that many organizations that can boast that they have been in existence for over 60 years. This association has grown and prospered for the simple reason that it performs its core mission well, that is, to help assessors do their job. Tonight is a celebration of this association’s success.

There are many people who have built up this association, and many individuals who have influenced and inspired me. To name a few, Rick Hubner, Sue Otis, David Briggs, Cathy Conklin, Curt Schoeberl, Michael Fogarty, Andrea Nilon, Roger Tibbetts, Peter Galarneau, Edye McCarthy, Fred Pask, Brian Monaghan, Thomas Masten, Annie Sapienza, Nick Longo, and others.

On behalf of this association, we thank you, for your valuable time, and many contributions.

It is an interesting time to be an assessor in New York. We are in the biggest and longest period of increasing property values. Newspaper headlines scream “House Prices Stunning.” Interest rates are at 40 year lows. Technology is moving quickly.

A recent report from the Public Policy Institute of New York State shows that New York has the highest state and local taxes in the nation. The Citizens Budget Commission reported that property taxes in New York are 72 percent higher than the national average.

As one might expect, the State Office of Real Property Services is advocating annual reassessments. Yet, at the last meeting of the Association of Towns, the State’s Chief Fiscal Officer, New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, spoke to municipal leaders from all over the State, when discussing the topic of revaluations, he stated, “You should just pull the pin and swallow a grenade, it’s faster.”

The skills required by an assessor are expanding. Today, we must be appraisers, accountants, lawyers, statisticians, information technology officers, and public relation experts. The need for a strong Assessors’ Association has never been greater. I am pleased to say, that this Association offers courses and seminars that cover all of these areas. I strongly urge you to take as many courses as possible.

It is time for this association to expand its horizon. I have initiated discussions on the creation of a committee to explore the acquisition and distribution of private sector commercial market data. I envision a database that will maintain a library of shared market rental information, published commercial data, and will, ultimately, educate our members by providing regional market valuation ranges for common commercial property types.

Since becoming a line officer, several of the past presidents have offered me advice. One of them, whose opinion I hold in high regard, told me that during my presidency, there would be some issue that would dominate the times. There are numerous issues, but the issue that I see as driving our profession is the alarming increased reliance on the property tax to fund the schools.

In New York State, we lead this great nation on school spending per student. It is open to debate as to whether we should be proud of that fact, or disgusted.

Typically, the school portion totals two thirds of the amount of a property’s annual tax bill. Many communities are experiencing annual, double digit, school tax rate increases. In some communities the annual increases have exceeded 20 percent.

When Albert Einstein was asked, “What is the most powerful thing that you have ever encountered?” he replied, “Compound interest.” I mention this as it applies to school tax rates. With the power of compound interest, if you increase a number by 10 percent annually, that number will double in just over 7 years. If some of those increases exceed 10 percent, the number may double in 5 or 6 years. At the current rate of increases, many communities have, and will continue to see school tax bills double every 7 years, or less.

It is not realistic to expect that the school property tax can be eliminated. It should be decreased significantly. I believe that people would prefer increased sales taxes and income taxes in return for a large reduction in their school property taxes.

This association does not have the power to alter school tax funding. On this issue, our power lies in influencing the taxpayers we speak to daily. When in conversation with taxpayers on the subject of out of control school taxes, agree with them, and urge them to contact their state legislators to seek alternative school funding sources. Have the legislators’ contact information readily available. We can trigger change.

In closing, I will leave you with this thought. Why is it, that if you determine that a property’s assessment is too low, and you raise it, you are accused of selective reassessment, and you are sued, and if that property happens to have sold recently, you are accused of welcome stranger tactics, and you are sued, yet, if you do a lot of spot assessing, and a lot of welcome stranger changes, and you refer to it as “Trending”, the State will send you a maintenance aid check?

Thank you, and have a great evening.