The following letter was submitted to this newspaper by Saugerties resident Nancy Campbell:
At the forum for town candidates sponsored by the League of Women Voters on Monday, Oct. 17, I was impressed by Kelly Myers’ stated goals and requirements for successful town leadership but I think perhaps she hasn’t done all of her homework, since she doesn’t seem to know that many of her goals have been realized over the past several years under the able leadership of Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel and his hard working town board members Leeanne Thornton, Fred Costello, Bruce Leighton and Jimmy Bruno.
Ms. Myers criteria for a well-run town include a regional approach to economic development; a streamlined process for planning approval for new business; cooperation between town and village; fair and equitable tax assessment; and accessible, open governance.
Having served as part of the Town Board team for four years, 2006-2009, I can vouch, with certainty, that all we’ve been there, done (or are doing) that! Space here doesn’t permit a full description of all that Greg and his board has accomplished, but I feel I should address at least two of Kelly’s concerns here, regarding open government and equitable property tax assessments.
The theme of “open government” seemed to be on people’s minds at the forum, with several questions on the topic. It’s a platitude-attitude, easy to proclaim; who would argue against open government?! But putting platitude into practice has been a notable accomplishment of this Town Board:
Ethics and open government go hand in hand, and the town passed an Ethics and Disclosure law in 2007, requiring all sworn officials to disclose any possible conflicts of interest.
Meetings are open to the public (with exceptions of those discussing personnel issues) and minutes are posted on the town’s website; meetings are filmed and televised on TV 23.
Citizens are actively involved in government, at the ground floor level, on committees such as the Comprehensive Planning Committee which helps to shape Saugerties’ future through zoning recommendations; the Planning Board, itself an independent legal entity empowered by NYS Town Law to make decisions with regards to land use without town board influence; the Zoning Board, another legal entity which makes land use decisions free from Town Board influence; and a committee unique to Saugerties when it was formed, a Property Tax Assessment Committee comprising several citizens from all walks of life who interviewed several candidates and made recommendations, which were accepted by the Town Board in 2006, when Mr. Orlando was appointed to fill the position of sole assessor.
Citizens input has been sought and taken into account on major projects affecting the town, such as the Winston Farm Development where an advisory panel included many citizens; and on the Kings Highway Water/Sewer project, where residents were invited to an informational meeting to opt in or not for water/sewer, depending on their own needs.
A citizen’s advisory committee took part on the largest ground water protection study ever undertaken in the town, beginning in 2005.
Several public hearings were held, with public input influencing the final version, when the updated Zoning Law was adopted in 2008.
Town Board members are available and accessible, with contact info posted on the town website. If you’ve got a question or concern, give any Town Board member a call, and I guarantee they’ll be happy to talk to you!
I would venture to say that Saugerties has more citizens directly involved in local government than many neighboring towns, and while the ultimate votes are cast at Town Board meetings by board members, those votes have been informed by the participation of the public in committees beforehand, as well as at public hearings. That is open government!
A puzzling position taken by Ms. Myers is that she would abolish “pre-board” meetings. Puzzling, because as an advocate of open government, she must not realize that pre-board meetings provide the opportunity for Town Board members, most of whom hold full-time jobs or run businesses, to meet face to face, to talk, in public, about projects they’re working on, comments they’ve heard, or about other issues, including items to be voted on at the subsequent meeting. On occasion, a community member or town department chair will join the board at the table to present a particular problem or issue in the more comfortable format of a pre-board meeting, which is still in the public domain, yet not as formal as addressing the board, with a mic, at a lectern.
And finally, with regards to everyone’s favorite bugaboo, property tax assessments, there are some statements made by Kelly which are misleading or just plain wrong. She claims that painting and reroofing her home helped lead to an astronomical increase in her assessment, and adding insult to injury, perpetrates that myth by repeating that other property owners are now refraining from such improvements to avoid an increased assessment. Let’s correct the record here, lest we see peeling paint and loose roof tiles flying off all around the town! According to Frank Orlando, “new roofs and painting of houses are considered maintenance items and are not considered in the valuation process. I do not even look at building permits for such work.” With regards to Myer’s repeated touting of the town of Esopus’ assessment practices (visiting each and every property in a town), Frank states, “ the reassessment project completed by the town followed the same procedures as the town of Esopus (these procedures are mandated by NYS ORPS). Just to let you know, we have received the Excellence in Equity award from the State for our outstanding job on assessments for the past 2 years.”
Furthermore, it benefits all taxpayers when a revaluation takes place, distributing the tax burden more equitably. This was not always the case, and, as many Saugertesians will remember, prior to Orlando’s appointment there was an outcry about uneven and erratic assessments, which led to the creation of the aforementioned Property Tax Assessment Committee. In the case of Saugerties, not all properties rose in value this time around, and in fact, in 2011 Orlando trended most property assessments down by 3 percent. If budgets remained the same, the tax rate would have increased by 3% with the net result being each property would basically owe the same amount in taxes. Of course, none of us like to pay taxes, nor can we all afford to pay more, but it can be the case that if a property was undervalued in the past—and many were—its assessment at real market value can be a shock. The largest portion of our taxes is our school tax, and that burden must be addressed at a New York State level.
In my opinion, Saugerties has been well served by its town government. Each is an experienced, dedicated, public servant who has shown incredible commitment to our community. Let’s re-elect Greg Helsmoortel, Fred Costello, Jr. and Leeanne Thornton and help them continue helping Saugerties grow (gracefully, of course!).
This is just one of the dozens of letters we received this week. To find out what Saugertiesians are thinking and saying each and every week, subscribe today. For just 57 cents per week, you’ll get home delivery of the paper that covers all the news you need about your community (taxes, schools, local government, local developments) as well as in-depth features on the people that make Saugerties tick. E-mail SaugertiesTimes@gmail.com, call 845-334-8200 or subscribe online.