Troy property owners think 34 years is long enough to go without
a city-wide tax tally
Albany, you can grieve your taxes,” said Warren Abele. “In
Troy, you need a lawyer just to get through the paperwork.”
Abele, along with his wife, Pamela, has joined more than a
dozen other homeowners in Troy’s Washington Park neighborhood
in bringing a lawsuit against the city of Troy to grieve the
individual assessments on their properties and to compel the
assessor’s office to enact a citywide revaluation.
Abele owns four properties, three of which are rentals, along
2nd Street in the Washington Park neighborhood. He lives in
the building at 189 2nd St., which he bought for $430,000
in 2001. When he bought the building, the former home of Rensselaer
County Center for the Arts, Abele’s combined school and property
taxes for the building were $8,500. Three years later, he
remodeled the second floor of the carriage house behind the
building and that, he said, triggered a reassessment. His
tax burden increased by more than 50 percent, to more than
For 2007, he said, his combined taxes are more than $16,000.
am I going to stay in this house?” Abele wondered aloud. “Next
year, I am turning 65. I will be living off Social Security.
I could raise the rent for my apartments. I could raise the
rents a little in the carriage house. I could turn the extra
bedrooms into a bed and breakfast,” he gestured to the rooms
off his second-floor kitchen. He then added, “They would probably
just raise my assessment again.”
Republican at-large Councilwoman Marjorie DerGurahian said
she doesn’t know enough about the Abele lawsuit to comment
specifically, but she definitely hears complaints from her
constituents about assessments.
is a problem that needs to be addressed and hasn’t been,”
she said. “It is a shame that when somebody renovates or makes
their property look nicer they get penalized with a higher
tax assessment. That seems like the wrong way, and there could
be other ways to do it.”
Perhaps, she suggested, assessments could be based on land
The lawsuit, on which Abele is the lead petitioner, argues
that there is a disparity in taxation is due, in part, to
the fact that Troy hasn’t undergone a citywide revaluation
in decades. Troy’s last uniform, comprehensive look at the
assessed value of its 14,000 parcels occurred in 1973.
City of Troy has assessment rolls across many years,” the
suit reads, “produced with and by unknown, undefined, non-uniform
assessment actions and do not have consistency and uniformity.”
As an example of this lack of consistency, the petition points
to the tax roll from 2006. Seven buildings sold for $100,000.
One of those buildings, located at 447 3rd St., was assessed
at $5,560; another, located at 2228 15th St., was assessed
at $18,310; and yet another, located at 358-360 5th Ave.,
was assessed at $84,740.
that say something about the competence of the assessor’s
office?” Abele asked.
Geoff Gloak, a spokesman with the New York State Office of
Real Property Services, wasn’t surprised to hear about the
apparent disparities cited in the petition. “If it’s been
34 years since Troy has reassessed . . . it is pretty likely
that there are a lot of inequities in the assessment rolls.”
That is why, he said, the ORPS recommends a municipality complete
a citywide revaluation every six years.
municipality is going to collect the same amount of taxes
whether a reassessment is done or not,” Gloak said. “So .
. . doing the reassessment is just the way to make sure everyone,
that each taxpayer pays their fair share of the total tax
bill. It’s like cutting up a pie. And sometimes, before a
reassessment, the pie isn’t cut up fairly.”
Fair or not, DerGurahian pointed out that a comprehensive
revaluation isn’t a popular idea.
think that probably local leaders are hesitant to support
[a citywide revaluation] because politically that is a scary
thing to say.” Plus, it would be expensive. The last price
she heard quoted was $800,000.
This cost could be offset somewhat, Gloak said, by the state,
which offers any municipality a reimbursement of $5 per parcel
a city like Troy, that would be $70,000,” he figured. “No
small chunk of change.”
Of course, there are some people who have trouble mustering
up sympathy for a man who lives in a half-million-dollar house
and owns three other buildings in the Washington Park neighborhood
when he complains about his taxes.
say that he can sell his house for a half-million dollars,”
DerGurahian said. “Well, I don’t want them to sell their house
and move out of Troy. We have good people here. I think that
is missing the point. I am hearing that Warren’s taxes are
$16,000 total. That’s atrocious. I don’t care how much money
you have or what kind of house you have. In the city of Troy,
somebody’s taxes shouldn’t be $16,000.”
intend to run this action to the very end,” Abele said, adding
that he feels he has been left with no other choice. “I intend
to pay these lawyers whatever it takes to get a favorable
Representatives of the Beebe Law Firm, which is representing
Abele, as well as the Troy assessor, Tina Dimitradis, refused
to comment for this article.
month after announcing his intention to seek a
sex-change operation, the city manager of Largo,
Fla., has found himself out of a job. An emotional
Steve Stanton and his supporters pleaded to city
officials to no avail last week, arguing that
becoming “Susan” will not affect his job performance.
The city maintains that its firing of Stanton
is due to a loss of confidence in him and not
due to his expressed wish to become a woman. Stanton
has not decided whether he will file a lawsuit.
Our Seamen Go
is pushing Iran to release 15 English seamen captured
last week in the Persian Gulf. Iran insists the
men were in Iranian territorial waters, while
Britain and Iraq maintain that the ship was patrolling
1.7 miles inside Iraqi waters (the ownership of
this portion of the Persian Gulf has been much
disputed between Iran and Iraq over the years).
This is not the first incident in which Iran has
seized British seamen—in 2004, 14 men were seized
and shown blindfolded on Iranian state-run television
prior to being released.
I’m Guilty! Now Please Stop Hitting Me!
David Hicks pleaded guilty last week to providing
material support for terrorism after being held
at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba, for five years. He is the first person to
be tried and convicted under the controversial
Military Commissions Act of 2006. According to
Democracy Now!, Hicks, who was accused
of conspiracy to commit murder as well as supporting
terrorism, claims to have been beaten, sodomized
and forcibly drugged while under U.S. custody.
These accusations were denied by representatives
of the U.S. government.
Bring Your Own Bag
leaders in San Francisco voted Tuesday to ban
large supermarkets and drug stores from using
plastic grocery bags. It’s a move that may eliminate
the “Would you like paper or plastic?” question
from at least 50 grocery stores. Instead, these
retailers will be required to offer bags made
of recyclable material, such as paper, or reusable
cloth. Supporters of the measure claimed that
plastic bags lead to litter that can choke marine
life and are overall not environmentally friendly.
Way hopes to make information on local health and human services
just a phone call away
In the Capital Region, there is no community-wide information
and referral service for citizens wishing to find various
human services, including everything from suicide prevention
to child care, said Katherine Pelham, president of United
Way of Northeastern New York.
But United Way is trying to change that.
In other areas of the state and the country, such existing
databases have been converted into a 211 phone service. Staff
at 211 call centers—always a live person, Pelham noted—are
trained to assess each caller’s individual situation and direct
the caller to government agencies or nonprofit groups that
can assist them.
Pelham said that without a database locally, 211 is more difficult
to build but even more necessary. “It’s a little circular,”
she said. “We’re building it.”
211 New York, a coalition of New York State Alliance of Information
and Referral Systems and the United Way, is requesting that
$10.66 million be allotted to fund the 211 system for the
2007-2008 budget year, an increase of $4.7 million from last
year. If the full amount is allotted, about $1.3 million is
slated to go toward establishing the service in the Capital
Region. 211 already exists in both the Hudson Valley and the
takes huge resources,” Pelham said. “There’s no getting around
systems are technologically driven, and they are complex,”
she continued. The services must be able to roll into each
other, “so if Westchester has a problem, their system would
roll to ours or Buffalo,” and vice versa.
Susan Hager, president of United Way of New York State, said
that United Way alone could not maintain the program locally.
“The state coming in as a partner is extremely important to
the final launch in the Capital Region,” she said. In addition
to state money, the service would be funded by the United
Way and citizen donations.
United Way is working to get the word out to the public about
the service, but with a bit of reserve. “We need the community’s
support and understanding,” Pelham said. “We want people to
know it’s in development, but we don’t want to set an expectation
that today you can pick up the phone and call 211.” In other
places you can, she said, “but not here, not yet.”
The current plan is to have some sort of working database
in place in the Capital Region by December of this year.
Begun in Atlanta in 1997, 211 now reaches more than 65 percent
of the U.S. population—about 193 million Americans. Hager
noted that the service often starts in areas that have recently
seen a weather emergency. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf
Coast in 2005, she said, 911 lines went down but 211 stayed
strong, and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco urged citizens
in need to call 211. “Those lines were pretty flooded with
phone calls,” Hager said. “It provided incredible support
in Texas and Louisiana,” although Mississippi did not have
Hager said that, in addition to helping citizens, the service
makes the crucial job of emergency operators easier. “The
wonderful people that staff 911 will not be getting calls
that are not life-threatening,” she said. “They have a place
to send those people to that they didn’t have before. And
that’s very important.”
Raise, I’ll Petition
residents cry foul amid confusion that surrounds vote on large
pay increases for city officials
Conflicting and ambiguous laws added confusion to what was
already a contentious debate during recent weeks about whether
the position of Schenectady mayor should see a $36,000 pay
raise and City Council members should get an increase of $4,000.
Although the council approved increases for both positions
Monday night (March 26), the decisions came only after both
pieces of legislation were amended on the floor.
While Democratic at-large Councilman Frank Maurizio said that
the changes were a response to public outcry because “the
council listened to the people,” some citizens said the eleventh-hour
modifications were made for one reason and one reason only—to
kibosh their plan to petition for a referendum that could
have put the pay-raise issue up for a public vote.
think [the council] did that to discourage the people,” said
Pat Zollinger, who began planning a petition drive days before
the vote in case the legislation was passed without amendments.
The problem with the initial legislation’s intention was that
it would have given three council members a midterm pay raise,
she said, an action that is legally subject to a public vote
if residents successfully petition.
just not willing to give it up,” Zollinger added. She already
is thinking about a new plan to undo what was decided Monday
night. Her new idea is based on a state law that she said
allows residents to pass their own local laws if they can
gather enough petition signatures to put the citizen-proposed
measure on the ballot. She explained that this option would
allow residents to propose two new local laws, one that would
rescind the mayoral position’s pay raise and another that
would rescind the increase for City Council members.
honestly believe it’s doable,” Zollinger said. “I don’t think
that we should just throw our hands up in the air and say,
‘Oh, forget it. We’re at the mercy of these politicians.’
Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton currently receives $60,500
a year, but under the new local law, whoever is elected to
the position this fall will receive $96,706 beginning Jan.
City Council members currently are paid $9,800 for their services.
The new law increases that position’s salary to $14,093.
Zollinger said she doesn’t oppose pay increases; she simply
thinks the new figures are too high. It’s an opinion that
puts her in the majority among those who spoke during a public-comment
period before the council vote. Many of the speakers called
the increases, particularly the one for the mayor’s position,
“excessive” and “obscene.”
Such comments were nothing new to the ears of Schenectady
politicians, who heard similar input during a public hearing
about the two proposed pay-increase laws March 12. At the
same meeting, residents complained about the original legislations’
inclusion of automatic pay-increase provisions.
Even though the language about automatic pay increases was
removed from both pieces of legislation when the laws were
amended prior to the final vote, the mayor may still be able
to receive automatic pay increases, said John Van Norden,
corporation counsel for the city. That’s because of an ambiguous
law passed in 1979 that may allow the mayoral position to
take an increase whenever nonunionized city managers receive
a raise. Nonunion city managers usually receive a pay increase
whenever city employees who belong to the Civil Service Employees
Union receive a raise.
Van Norden said the revised automatic pay-increase language
that was included in the original pay-increase proposals but
never made it to law was designed to clarify this confusion.
In addition to the legal questions surrounding the automatic
pay increase, Van Norden also was called upon to respond to
confusion about when the council members’ proposed pay increases
would be applied to each seat—since council members are currently
elected on staggered cycles, a uniform application of the
pay increase would result in a few members receiving a midterm
Van Norden explained that there are legal tensions between
laws at several levels that create contradictions when it
comes time to discuss when to apply pay increases to council
seats. While the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution
requires equal treatment for people in equal positions, local
laws restrict the council’s power to pass midterm pay increases
without a public referendum.
During a committee meeting on March 19, Van Norden and council
members indicated that the raise would apply to all seats
beginning Jan. 1, 2008, even though only four of the seven
council seats will have gone through an election cycle by
that date. By Monday’s vote, however, they had changed their
minds, and Maurizio clarified that the four seats that are
up for election this fall will receive the increase Jan. 1,
2008, while the remaining three seats would receive the raise
in 2010 after the 2009 election cycle.
Five days before the final vote, Democratic at-large Councilman
Gary McCarthy echoed the confusion of many residents, saying
that he didn’t even know what version would show up when it
came time to vote. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
care of agribusiness: Kirsten Gillibrand is looking
to help dairy farmers.
PHOTO: Chris Shields
Price of Milk
Gillibrand’s first bill would give dairy farmers a helping
County Farm Bureau President Eric Ooms said he realized last
year how bad things were across the board for dairy farmers
in upstate New York when he spoke to his loan officer. “I
had heard no one was able to pay their bills last year. And
that’s probably accurate. He said out of the dairy farmers
he works with from four or five counties, he knew only one
dairy farmer who didn’t borrow to pay operating expenses last
year.” Of course, Ooms noted, 2006 was not the worst it has
been for dairy farmers, whose survival hinges on the price
they are paid for their cows’ milk.
dairy farmers and experts alike, and they will tell you the
price farmers are paid for their milk has remained stagnant
since the ’70s, while the costs of producing it, such as fuel,
feed and animal care, have all steadily increased.
Ooms and members of the Farm Bureau are hopeful that things
may soon change for the small dairy farmer, thanks to Rep.
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-Greenport) and the first bill she has
authored in her short time in Congress.
been meeting with farmers for the past two years,” said Gillibrand.
“And I found out it’s costing most of the farmers between
$16 and $17 to produce a hundredweight of milk, and they are
getting reimbursed about $13. That might even be a little
The goal of Gillibrand’s bill is to increase the amount paid
to dairy farmers to ensure their farms are sustainable, and
to make sure more dairy farmers are covered under current
subsidy programs. But, as Ooms tells it, milk pricing is more
complicated than you might think.
Ooms explained that the bill attempts a number of things,
“all of varying degrees of difficulty when it comes to getting
them passed.” The first part, Ooms explained, has to do with
doubling the coverage of the Milk Income Loss Contract Program,
which reimburses farmers when the price of milk drops below
a certain amount. The bill would double the amount of milk
covered for each farmer from 2,400,000 pounds to 4,800,000.
Ooms explained that in an effort to cut costs, he combined
his milking operation with that of his father and two brothers.
“We do that because we try to get a little bit of scale. Although
we can’t really compete necessarily with New Mexico, whose
farms average 1,400 cows, we decided to work together instead
of having four 90-cow farms.” As a result of being a larger
farm, the Ooms family misses out on some of the subsidies
they would be getting if they were working four smaller farms.
The second component of the bill would set the minimum price
under Federal Milk Marketing Orders for one hundredweight
of drinking milk at $15.58. The price would then be adjusted
yearly for inflation. While farmers are currently enjoying
a strong price, at times last year the price was in the low
While Ooms is not so sure how easy it will be to get these
changes through, possibly because of resistance from states
that do not produce as much drinking milk, he says he is grateful
that upstate New York has a representative on the House Agricultural
Committee. “It is such a big deal for Kirsten to get on the
Ag Committee. I look back three years ago and there was only
one person from the Northeast on the Ag Committee. Two years
ago, Randy Kuhl (R-Hammondsport) got on. Now we have three
of 50. That’s not good, but at least now we have both sides
of the aisle and people on various subcommittees. At least
we have a voice. No one was even there, so forget about the
votes. Now we got to think about getting the votes.”
is a food-security issue!” Gillibrand said. “Food production
could be disrupted by disaster or a terrorist attack, so we
need a safe food supply in other parts of the country. And
if these small dairies go out of business, they are not going
to come back, so I am going to make the case that this is
part of our economic security.”
However, there are simpler reasons why Gillibrand says she
feels her legislation is important. She says that she has
seen the devastation wrought on dairy farms in upstate New
York. She has seen counties once ripe with more than 200 dairy
farms reduced to only 20.
bottom line is the dairy farms are going out of business,”
she said, “and we like having dairies around. We like the
milk that is produced right now, we like the quality of life
the farms provide, the nutritional value of having local producers.
It’s really important to support our farmers because it adds
to our quality of life.”
loose ends this week-