Town of Portland residents hopeful about important appeal process

BROCTON – Being their own best advocates and researchers may prove to be beneficial to the Concerned Residents of Portland after their report to the Portland Town Council.

The group of residents, who have been diligently working to appeal the town’s equalization rate after a seismic shift caused havoc for their tax bills last year, addressed the council members recently on the progress of their appeal package to the state.

Resident Mark Rand told the packed town hall chambers that his conversation with specializing consulting Attorney Daniel Spitzer of Hodgson-Russ was good and his advice for the appeal package was to modify it slightly to make it easier to understand.

“He has dressed up the response to the state a little bit, which is scheduled to go out tomorrow. His attitude is that this looks favorable, and this lawyer seems to be very comfortable with our case,” stated Rand.

A response is anticipated as early as Aug. 15 according to the group, and Town Councilman Dan Schrantz again thanked the residents for their determination.

“I can’t thank you enough and hopefully if we’re successful with this appeal, it could really help our residents out.”

Schrantz also reported to the group on another agenda item of concern to them – that of voting rights for seasonal residents of the town.

Seasonal residents along the lakefront, some of whom saw the hugest shift in their tax bills because of the equalization rate change, have expressed concern at prior meetings that voting on related factors such as school tax budgets is not permissible.

Working from information provided by the Association of Towns, the supervisor reported to the group that residents can “only be an elector of one township,” but that a married couple could split their voting choices if they qualified to do such.

Schrantz also agreed to confirm those directives with the Chautauqua County Board of Elections to see what the elector qualifications are for the residents.

The biggest item of contention for the concerned residents was addressed last on the agenda – that of the reappointment of the town’s assessor Deanna Wheeler.

With Wheeler’s contract set to expire in September, the group alleges that the equalization rate situation could have been steered differently or avoided all together had she taken predictive measures to warn the town council that the situation was at hand.

The assessor, who was present at the board meeting, had met with the council prior to discuss the allegations stemming from the equalization rate change, according to the council.

Opening remarks from Schrantz echoed, “We’ve talked with Deanna and heard her side, and feel at this point, that basically the feeling is ‘no one likes an assessor.’ But she’s trying to do the best job she can out of the job description that New York State provides, which is necessary for her to do. The council’s feeling is that this is more of an isolated case in one area of the township and that with the institution of a better complaint process, we can hopefully nip any concerns in the bud as they happen.”

The residents responded back, still contending that the assessor either was uncooperative with their initial complaints or responded back to them with wrong information.

After a lengthy discourse between the council members, the assessor and the residents, one town resident, hailing from Maine (where a similar dichotomy of lake front and off lake front properties exist) offered his point of view.

“Elsewhere in the country, there are areas where you have expensive lakefront properties, and then the rest of the community. In Maine, the exact same problem existed. This takes a special type of assessing. There, the residents worked with the town board, and sent the assessor to a workshop where they could look at more sophisticated knowledge. The result was that all members of the town were not going up in assessments disproportionately. This is not an unusual circumstance; it’s just in how you approach it.”

Councilman Rick Manzella prompted the rest of the members to have another sitdown with Wheeler and some of the representatives from the group to get to the heart of everyone’s concerns and work from there.

The council has called for a special meeting Friday at 10 a.m. at the town hall to further discuss the issue of the assessor.