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County officials wary about assessment grants

ELIZABETHTOWN County officials are always seeking additional revenue sources, but were skeptical last Friday about possible strings attached to two state grants. At the Feb. 15 Essex County Finance Committee meeting, state representatives addressed board members in regards to four grant opportunities. County officials, though, were concerned that the proposal for two of the grants would lead to switching the current property assessment system from town to county control. David Williams, director of regional customer service delivery for the state Office of Real Property Services, and Susan Savage, director of intergovernmental relations, attended the committee meeting to explain four grants totaling $100,000 in funds for counties. Each grant was worth $25,000. The first grant for a study of county-wide assessment raised eyebrows among supervisors concerned it would lead to mandated assessment of property by county officials, instead of the current assessing by individual towns. Savage explained the grant asked for a study of county wise assessment and sharing services to become more cost-effective. Williams lauded the Essex County Real Property Services department, under director Bernard Miller, for leading the state in collecting parcel reimbursement funding. The state pays $5 per parcel of every town assessed at full equalization. This county has been very progressive in the last several years. You've received the highest dollars per parcel for assessment in state, said Williams. He said the county was very close to county assessing, according to current state guidelines. Currently, the county provides appraisal services to town assessors, who then assess the official value of the properties. A second $25,000 grant would be offered when the report was delivered to the board. You don't have to adopt it. I do believe in looking forward and looking several years out. The aid programs may change, and at that point you may find it advantageous to, said Williams. Newcomb Supervisor George Canon was opposed to conducting the study. He stated there had been problems created when the state mandated take-over of elections, and felt changing the assessment system would only make similar trouble. Crown Point Supervisor Dale French agreed with Canon, calling it a path that would eventually go from county to regional assessment mandates. I don't want to go down this slippery slope, said French. Moriah Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava stated while he supported a study, he was more interested in seeing how the state came up with equalization rates. He said the model the state currently used wasnt fair to the Adirondacks, since the region operates under unique land restrictions. The committee issued a directive to apply for the grant. St. Armand Supervisor Joyce Morency, French and Canon opposed the directive. Another grant proposal to build a tax collection database, drew unanimous approval from the committee. The $25,000 grant was to build a county-wide database for all taxing jurisdictions, with a second $25,000 available for implementation. Miller and Essex County Treasurer Michael Diskin stated support for the county database. Diskin explained the county was 95 percent there, since it already has a database containing all 18 towns, seven of the 15 school districts, and two of the four villages.

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