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A Message from the President

RANDALL HOLCOMB, IAO 
President, New York State Assessors' Association 
2011 - 2012 

I would like to welcome everyone to this installation banquet of the New York State Assessors' Association. Thank you all for attending and supporting this Association.  I recently heard at the funeral for a 90 year town justice that his favorite saying was, “I don’t care what you say, just make it short!”  So here it goes . .

 Being sworn in as the 71st President of the New York State Assessors' Association, I am now a member of a group of the excellent people, the most recent of those being Christine Fusco.  Her work will continue on in this organization and certainly leaves with big shoes to fill.  I give Chris, and her husband Frank, my unending thanks and gratitude for all you have both done for me personally and the New York State Assessors' Association. 

 Tonight is going to be all about people. To start, ME! I won’t take a lot of time doing this because I don’t talk about myself well . . . I am Randy Holcomb . . . I am 51 years old . . . have been an Assessor for 29 years and worked as the assessor clerk for five years prior to that starting in 11th grade in high school . . . I am the Assessor for the City of Jamestown and eight towns . . . I have been a member of the Institute of Assessing Officers for 26 years . . . I have lived all my life in Chautauqua County, which is the most southwest county in New York State. Since I can be in Cleveland Ohio in three hours and most of my trips here on the Executive Board take about five hours, my nice friends here on the dais – thank you very much Cathy Conklin! - call me OHIO! And, I have been waiting for six years to state this publicly, and sadly, although (1st VP) Mike Bernard unfortunately cannot be here tonight due to ill health, we wish him well as he heals every day and hope he soon will return to be with us.  However, because I am from Chautauqua County, where there are many Amish communities, Michael Bernard calls ME Amish!  So – yes Mike – I am Amish, we bake pies, so shut your pie hole!  Gosh it feels good to let that out! 

 The first table gift I will mention tonight is the pencil in front of you, and this is actually my business card that I will be using throughout the year.  Please think of our Association when you use it and give me a call with any questions or concerns. So . . . this is all you are going to hear about me tonight – the rest will be about all of us in this room and how we interact with each other and making this the strongest Association possible. 

 Some introductions I want to make: my Mom and Dad - Barb and Dick Holcomb, who will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary one month from tonight; my sister and bro-in-law proud dairy farmers Mike & Judy Meredith, and my nephew and his wife Jordan and Janelle Meredith. 

 Also with us tonight are Ken and Anne Johnson: Ken was the Assessor for the City of Jamestown for many years and President of this New York State Assessors' Association exactly 25 years ago in 1986.

 Joining us tonight also is my former Supervisor for 28 years and his wife Dale and Becky Robbins. I am proud to say that I am the one that introduced Dale and Becky to each other and they then got married – so I think that Dale felt compelled to hire me! 

 Also joining us tonight is the fine Mayor of Jamestown – Sam Teresi AND the Jamestown City Clerk Jim Olson. Mayor Teresi has recently completed his service as the President of the NYS Conference of Mayors.

 Arden Johnson is the Supervisor for the Town of Ellery and a proud octogenarian that I am very happy is with us tonight. 

 Don Emhardt is the proud Supervisor for the Town of Chautauqua and I am honored that he is also joining us tonight. 

 There’s a group whose incredible work and trust have allowed me to be here in this capacity tonight.  They are the most loyal and wonderful people that I work with every day and they sit at this table: Heather Young Deyell, Lisa Volpe, Cathy Andrews, Laurie Sorg, Kim Wilson and her fiancée Dave Gollus, Janette Robson, Bonnie Rae Strickland and Kevin Okerlund.  I also include Anne Golley and Marcie Hartzell that were unable to be with us tonight.  And we even have in attendance tonight two of the best Town Clerks in the state: Diane VanDewark of the Town of Busti, and Sheila Hammond from the Town of Chautauqua. And some of you may remember retired Assessor Pat Eimers, retired Assessor from the Town of Ellington - and it is true that she flew in here tonight all the way from Ellington on her push broom!

 I am honored that the members of the Chautauqua County Assessor’s Association (CCAA) are with us also.  I am very proud of my work with this county assessor association and most grateful with the second gift that we will discuss tonight.  Our County Assessor’s Association arranged for a decorated bottle of wine for everyone tonight, and all are from Chautauqua County wineries.  Please enjoy this as a gift from Chautauqua County and visit our wineries as you pass thru and visit Chautauqua County.  Special thanks to CCAA members Karen Bowker, Pam Thomson, Kevin Muldowney, Tom Mlecko, Tony Porpiligia, Signe Rominger and Roger Newell for their arrangements and being here this evening. 

 Behind me is a group whose insight has allowed me to stand before you tonight – the Executive Board.  They are an incredibly talented group of dedicated individuals . . . We may be a little quieter tonight than usual with Mike Bernard’s absence, but that may be a good thing.  In all honesty, and on behalf the entire Executive Board, you have warmed our hearts with your trust and confidence in our representation of you. 

 I took the time tonight to name introduce all of the folks tonight for a purpose.  When you are lucky enough to have family, friends and co-workers like these, you just have to pass it on. These are the foundations that networks are built on which make this New York State Assessors' Association a phenomenal organization!

 As I stated earlier, my theme tonight and for this year is people . . . the people in this room . . . the people we work with . . . those in the organizations that we deal with daily . . . and at the end of the day – we will always come back to relying on each other in this room, otherwise known as the New York State Assessors' Association. 

 And for this reason, more than ever, this Association is working daily for the reinstatement of RPTL 324 to provide a hearing for Assessors that are threatened with removal from office.  The original law was enacted to keep political interference out of the assessment process.  Section 324 allows for an objective review of the facts by a third party in the case where local politics may have unjustly caused the removal or other action against an assessor.  Although this organization cannot provide financial support to the individuals involved, please know that we are in full support of legislation that will reinstate Section 324 and are determined to follow it through to its completion.  This remains on our list of priorities until reinstatement. 

 A group of professionals that we are fortunate to find ourselves involved with as assessors are simply known as ‘the Contractors.’  Of course, not all of us choose to work with them, however, contractors do provide a vital service to us, and most especially when municipal budgets are cut and staff downsized, contractors serve an invaluable service to us. There are many contractors offering products to assessing across this state, and we are fortunate that many of them are in attendance at this conference.  My personal choice, due to our 20+ years of working together for the betterment of the assessment community, is GAR & Associates, located in Amherst and Albany, led by Cindy Baire and Walter Allen, and the some most talented staff in this industry, including Dave Barnett (with two T’s!), Michelle Saltino, Franka – who needs no last name, Donna Prechtal, Ron Rubino, Jeff Hennard, to name those that I have worked most closely with.  GAR has provided a table gift tonight in the form of the snazzy blue bag to put all of our gifts and candies in . . . and then to pack your lunch for work on Thursday!  I sincerely thank GAR for their assistance, their support and the confidence they put in me tonight. 

 Continuing on with the theme of how we need to all work with one another, one of the other associations that we, as assessors need to work with, are the county directors of real property tax services.  With us tonight is one of the greatest county directors ever, and she is one of us, my escort tonight – Shirley Bement!  Although she is no longer an assessor, we are fortunate, as an organization, that Shirley is one of the 60 county directors. SHE is fighting the good fight by making assessors her #1 concern. 

 County wide assessing – we all remember that disastrous year when we were forced to study moving all the assessing to the county level, and we all remember that it went - nowhere. Maybe – now is the time to start using former Town of Busti Supervisor Dale Robbins’ shared services agreement that has been working strong for 25 years and merge our towns and keep us all at the local level.  It seems that those that are pushing county wide assessing don't have a clue what it is even about. And remember, this can be accomplished with keeping all assessing personnel on board and keeping this Association strong by all be members.  Instead of a negative, lets make this a positive and use this as an opportunity, merge our assessing offices when the possibility arises, and keep our assessing local! 

 Please know that keeping assessing local, not county-wide, remains a priority on our legislative agenda that this Board is still dealing with. 

 Also with us tonight is the Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) Western Region’s Patti Valvo, which many of us know.  I am grateful to you, Patti, for being with us.  One ORPTS representative in a room full of Assessors . . . maybe she is thinking twice about being here!  Although Patti is now retired, she and I have worked diligently from 1986 thru last year – that’s a whole lot of revaluations!!  Working alongside Patti is to work with the finest in the entire ORPTS organization.  Please know Patti that your past work does not go unnoticed!  Additionally, our Western Region is fortunate to be led by Chris Bannister and Chautauqua County is privileged to have Bob Wright as our CRM and Melanie Koch as our liaison. 

 ORPTS.  Thirty years ago it was known as the Division of Equalization and Assessment. That then was changed to the Office of Real Property Services.  Now that has changed to the Office of Real Property TAX Services.  Will the next change be for them to be gone altogether?  Maybe so . . .  

 RPTAC.  The title stands for Real Property Tax Administration Committee.  It is a group that includes six assessors, five or six county directors and between 12 to 15 ORPTS representatives and meets 4 times a year.  During our last two meetings, the most recent ORPTS director constantly reminded us that “four years ago ORPTS had 600 employees and we could provide a better service; two years ago ORPTS had 400 employees and could provide a good service.  Now - ORPTS has just over 200 employees and no longer provide many of those services.”  Still quoting, “Don’t call our attorneys, have YOUR attorney call OUR attorney and our attorney will respond to your attorney, when possible – we only have 200 employees left you know.”  In a few weeks we will see the next step in that the ORPTS website will be retired and merged INTO the State Department of Tax and Finance . . .  

 Maybe the next step, then, will be for us to witness ORPTS completely retired and merged into Tax and Finance.  Quite possibly this is the future . . . and if so – we, in this room need to band even closer together to form the strongest network possible.  We will rely on each other more than we ever have before.  And we will be stronger for it.

 Remember – this State Assessors’ Association motto is “An association is only as good as its members” . . . let’s all live up to that and stick together in the coming year.  Isn’t it nice when honest virtues win out?!

 In closing, as I am told every day – I am full of a lot of things, but tonight, I am mostly full of gratitude to family, co-workers, friends, this Executive Board, and all of you in this room. This will demand all that I have to give, and I promise nothing less. To those of you traveling home this evening – safe travels and my thanks to all of you for being here.