Thursday, May 5, 2011

What were they thinking?

We now have the FOILed copy of the assessment database containing the information for the 2011 Tentative Assessment Roll. It was given to us late this afternoon when we appeared at the town clerk's office with a Notice of Claim in hand.

We will be posting several Excel spreadsheets this weekend to provide property information to those who wish to grieve their assessment.

We have been told by the town clerk that even though we have received the cd, our FOIL appeal will be on the next town board agenda. Believe us...one way or another it will be discussed in the next open meeting on Wednesday, May 11, 2011.

At this point, residents of New Hartford should be asking what is so wrong with the assessment database that the town supervisor and his appointed town attorney would try to pull a stunt like this in an effort to keep us from posting the database in an Excel spreadsheet?

We have been openly blogging about some of the problems with the database; other problems we have communicated directly to the town board in hopes of working them out behind the scenes. The reassessment program was a disaster. The unfortunate part is that it will take a considerable amount of money to correct the deficiencies in the current assessment database.

We cannot stress enough that if you feel that your assessment is "too damn high" and that your property is being unfairly assessed in relation to comparable properties, you should file a grievance with the assessor. You do not necessarily have to appear in person on May 24, 2011 to present your case for a reduced assessment. All grievance applications are reviewed by the Board of Assessment Review whether you have an appointment to appear in person or not. But remember, you must file a grievance in the assessor's office by the end of the day on May 24, 2011 in order to file a small claim or certiorari if you are unsuccessful to get your assessment lowered at the BAR.

So...what were they thinking? It is unfortunate that some of the people running our town government felt they could bully us. Guess all the talk from Pat about an open government was just that...talk because it was what we all wanted to hear.

Did they really think that we would just go on our merry way without a fight? Did they think we would not call Robert Freeman to confirm what he told them regarding FOILing the assessment database? Did they think we are not fully aware of the FOI Law regarding assessment data?

As an officer of the court, Attorney Cully has a duty to uphold the law, not try to circumvent it to satisfy the town supervisor.

Shame on them...

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good work. Thank you for your persistance. What is up with Herb Cully? He is not an elected official, yet he acts like its his job to deny information requests, limit the public's access to their elected officals and intimidate any resident who complains about it. On a difffant issue, what is up with the OD? Whne was the last time they even reported in their paper what happened at the last town board meeting? In fact, why are they not doing the research and report like the CC does?

Anonymous said...

Why not just search the assessment roll information on the county website. All of the information from the whole county is there - including New Hartford. It's easy to search, too. Gives you comparable properties and/or comparable sales. Why go through all that drama when the information is already online?

New Hartford, N.Y. Online said...

Drama? hmm...obviously we just heard from another member of the family and friends plan.

FYI...we didn't FOIL the assessment roll; we FOILed the assessment database...big difference.

Must be you have a problem with open government.

New Hartford, N.Y. Online said...

Anonymous #2,

We checked the capabilities of the Oneida County assessment search. We wanted to find a 2,300 sq. ft. home in New Hartford. We only got 7 records and the assessments ranged from $142,400 to $248,000. That's quite a range for 7 records.

Here is the result of our search.

Absolutely useless information...try taking that to the Board of Assessment Review to win your case.

Then we tried searching on three fields...New Hartford, 2,300 sq. ft. and assessed for $150,000. The search return was "Sorry no records were found. No records matched all of your criteria. Please try another search. Considering using fewer fields."

Here is the result of our search.

Considering using fewer fields? Oops, I think there is a typo in that sentence. Is the county trying to frustrate people by telling you to consider using fewer than 3 fields?

Look, bottom line, we provide all records in an Excel spreadsheet so people can sort the different fields and see everything at one time.

That's the power of a database that is not controlled by an outside source. It's wonderful that the county has something online, but it would take someone forever to get any information using that system!

However, the important thing is that we give the taxpayer the choice of what method to use and that is what it's all about.

Open Government!

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you found 7 records of houses with exactly 2300 square feet. That's a pretty narrow search criteria. Why don't you try again and use ranges like the instructions tell you to. I tried a search for houses in New Hartford with 2250 - 2400 sq ft and an assessed value of $125,000 to $175,000 and got 130 properties.

New Hartford, N.Y. Online said...

Anonymous...what is your problem?

The county search, as well as the search on the town website, quite frankly in our opinion, is not in a useable format. But, hey, that's our opinion. We are entitled to it just as you are entitled to yours.

With the database that we FOILed we are able to put it in format that makes analyzing it easy.

We think it is wonderful that the county has progressed to the point of offering the information online.

Bottom line, we are entitled to FOIL the database. Plain and simple.

The town attorney acted improperly in this instance. Why are you not concerned with the behavior of the town attorney?

You want to call fighting for our rights drama...the only drama queen appears to be you right now. You just can't get over the fact that we have rights...it's called open government.

Anonymous said...

Drama "Queen"? "friends and family plan" ? In this case, those don't fit at all. No family, no friends in town government, and my wife will tell you that "queen" doesn't fit.

I AM concerned about the town attorney's interpretation of FOIL. And, I am aware of your right to access to public information and applaud that fact. I'm interested in open government too.

But in your posts up until your last post, you have inferred that your actions to obtain information from the town are the only way citizens can gain access to this information. In this case, there has been openness - the information from the same database you asked for is already posted online. And, I think it's in a very searchable format.

When I click on any of the properties in the list of search results, I get more information about the property than I get from the printed roll - much more. I'd have to ask for the property sheet to get all that. (Yes, I've grieved an assessment and know the drill - as it used to be anyway - when I had to flip through the printed roll and then ask or FOIL for property sheets on individual properties to get the information to make my case.)With the online database, if I look up my own property, I can open it's information page and search right from that for comparables.

Not everyone likes to work with Excel spreadsheets. Most people would have more difficulty gleaning the information they need for a grievance from a spreadsheet than they would from the online real property database. I've taught Excel classes. It's not intuitive for a large percentage of people.

Your struggle to get the roll was a struggle to get it in a specific format - one that you personally prefer. The town's point that the same information was already available in another format was well taken. It's no excuse for not getting you the extraction file in the format you wanted because, in this case, there is a utility in the assessor's program to produce this format, as you pointed out. You didn't ask for them to produce something they didn't already have.

That's all well and good, but, please, don't denigrate the good you do and have done for the citizens of our town by inferring that you are the only source for this information when instead you could be helping those people who don't "get" Excel how to use the resources already available to them so that each of us can check to be sure we are paying our fair share of property taxes - and not more.

That is the goal, right? You're not doing this blog to collect pats on the back after all. I've always thought you do it to force government to be open when it is reluctant to do so. And, to help citizens gain access to information that can help them understand what government is doing and how it affects them. That should include all available resources, not just those that are your personal preference.

Equating a lack of willingness to provide information in a specific format with a lack of willingness to provide the information - especially when it has been provided - is counterproductive.

New Hartford, N.Y. Online said...

Like we said, you are entitled to your opinion. However, if you have ever seen the raw assessment database with all the detail [not just the detail that someone wants you to see], you would know why we want a copy in that format. We never implied that we were the only ones who have the assessment information...that is your assumption. We merely said that we are providing the information...you can read into that whatever you wish.

Our struggle was to get a copy of the raw data so that WE can analyze it for known assessing problems. Putting it online in an Excel format was just a side benefit we give to those who wish to have a copy in that format. Yes, we have even had some people write to us saying that the Excel format was much easier to use.

You are trying to second guess our motive when you have no idea what we do behind the scenes. The FOI Law says we can have it in any format we want; the town doesn't want us to have the raw data because they know how corrupt the database is...that should be a wake-up call to town residents.

And you are right, we don't need a pat on the back; if we did, we would have given up a long time ago!

By the way, FYI, the database on the county website is for 2010 not 2011. It says so right at the bottom of the returned search page. Not very useful if you are counting on using the information to grieve your assessment this year! The database we have is for 2011.

Let's just agree to disagree. Why not just let the taxpayers choose what they want? Obviously you have a stake in this some way or another and you are not just the average Joe Taxpayer.

Anonymous said...

Why is it when someone posts an opinion even slightly counter to your point, they are almost always viewed as antagonistic? Not everyone that contributes has a "problem" or must be a "member of the friends and family plan".

Mean spirited bravado is distasteful and somewhat detracts from your effort in providing useful information to Town residents. A different point of view e.g., usefulness of one data format over another, doesn't have to be WW3 but in the end it's your blog so fire away.

BTW I'm keeping my mouth shut over my assessment, for now. ;) (and no I'm not a member of the F&F plan!)

New Hartford, N.Y. Online said...

Anonymous said...Why is it when someone posts an opinion even slightly counter to your point, they are almost always viewed as antagonistic?

Try working your ass off to get information out to the public using your own money, time, gas, etc. and then have someone question why all the "drama" about not being able to get information that should be accessible by law particularly when it is the town attorney that is trying to keep it from us. That the town attorney was involved in keeping the cd from us should have been more of a concern to everyone, but apparently some people have other agendas.

The anonymous poster could have just made a pitch for the county website as they clearly were trying to do, but didn't need to attack our work by calling our effort to get the cd "drama". There was no need for that.

Perhaps we are just getting tired of people who write to us anonymously to take pot shots at us when a large portion of our day involves working to get information to town residents. Perhaps we just need a vacation from all this b/s.

Resident of New Hartford said...

The author identifying himself/herself as "anonymous" typifies one who refuses to be known by his/her real name.

Perhaps, if you would tell everyone who you are...then they might have a better idea why (in your writings) you are a self-serving individual...who appears hell-bent on destroying the hard-work, unpaid work, that has been put forth by the Concerned Citizens Group.

By the way, how much time and effort have you spent lately on informing town residents of their rights and opportunities available to them?

I thought so...not even 1 hour let alone one week or one month or even several months.

You monday-morning quarterbacks are nothing more than a lot of hot air...

I applaud the volunteers of Concerned Citizens. Had it not been for them, our taxes would be 3 times what they are now and we would still have Earle Reed.

Now, we have to get rid of the rest of this wolf pack.

Anonymous13 said...

I understand "open government " but if your looking to hang someone for their assessment post theirs and be done. If I was the town attorney I would charge you $.10 a copy and print and hand you hard copies.

I think way too much information is posted on the net and one day it will bit us all back

New Hartford, N.Y. Online said...

Anonymous said: If I was the town attorney I would charge you $.10 a copy and print and hand you hard copies.

Then you would be just as wrong as the town attorney was in this case. The law is very clear and is there to protect people against politicians who are greedy and corrupt. An attorney is supposed to uphold the law, not put roadblocks in front of people.

Anonymous said: if your looking to hang someone for their assessment post theirs and be done.

We are not looking to hang anyone for their assessment. We are merely giving people an opportunity to correct their assessment if they feel they are being treated unfairly.

Resident of New Hartford said...

Anonymous 13

I thank my lucky stars that you are not the town attorney. You would charge someone...when the law allows the receipt of these records - without charge?

It is my understanding that the town attorney misrepresented the facts and for lack of a better word - lied!

What became of the truth?

Anonymous said...

I find the comments of the "Anonymous" fascinating and interesting. I guess someone doesn't like government transparency. :(
All I can say is thank Ed and Cathy for the hard work they do keeping us informed on what is going on in New Hartford. We certainly can't rely on the OD. Current New Harford beat writer Bryon Akerman can't find Butler Hall to save his life. Maybe he is still wandering around Chadwicks looking for someone to talk to. LOL
Anyway, without Concerned Citizens the politicians in this town would get away with much mischief.

Somebody said...

If somebody needs to be apologized to, it is the person who takes the time to make this blog and information readily available to everybody. And the apology should come from the town attorney and assessor.

If nobody else will say it, I will.

Thanks, somebody out here appreciates what you do for New Hartford. I'm sorry you had to go through this experience.

New Hartford, N.Y. Online said...

Somebody,

Thank you for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

Point me to the moron who thinks you can gain any useful information from the county tax roll or town tax roll sites. I have a bridge to sell you for $10 million. It's sitting in my backyard.

The Excel spreadsheet is perfect, and great for people who are intelligent and want to actually know that they are looking at. Keep up the good work!