City Finance Committee discusses assessment cases

Two major assessment cases, which were both sent to New York State Supreme Court, were a topic of discussion during a recent Dunkirk City Finance Committee meeting.

Councilwoman Stacy Szukala asked City Attorney Ron Szot what would have happened if the Common Council had voted to decline granting an assessment reduction for the property at 8-10 E. Second St., owned by the OBSERVER’s parent company, Ogden Newspapers of New York, Inc.

“In this instance, we had negotiated with the attorney for the property owner and we had a couple pre-trial conferences, and using … the appraiser, our outside professional, gave an overview, sort of a risk analysis. I told them, ‘Tell us what you think, in confidence. Are our numbers accurate?’ And then you can decide whether you want to fight or not. There’s a cost-benefit,” Szot explained. “If you voted against that resolution settling the case, there wouldn’t have been a settlement at that point and they would’ve moved forward with a lawsuit.”

The Common Council approved a resolution on Nov. 5 to lower the assessment on the OBSERVER building to $400,000, commencing with the 2013-2014 tax year.

Also on Nov. 5, the council learned the case for the Absolut Care facility was being dropped by the petitioner after some initial discovery. The owner of the property, 447 Lake Shore Drive West, LLC, filed the proceeding in State Supreme Court on Aug. 15 for its assessment reduction.

Fiscal Affairs Officer Richard Halas explained the costs the city would have to pay for the appraisal services rendered for the two facilities, which were $1,900 for the OBSERVER and $1,400 for Absolut Care.

“We didn’t have money budgeted for this,” Halas said. “We have nothing to transfer from, so we’re going to have a deficit there.”

“We didn’t get appraisals per se. No full-blown, court-ready appraisals that had a ‘this is my professional opinion of a number,’ as opposed to doing a triage to get to a range where it would make more sense to settle than to fight,” Szot said. “We got the fieldwork, essentially, on where we’re going. An analysis, of sorts.”

The question of why a non-local appraiser was used was also brought to the forefront.

“Nursing homes are one of a handful of very uniquely valued problems,” Szot said, referring to Absolut Care. “You worry about the beds and the occupancy rate and everything you’ve read on the County Home, Medicaid, Medicare, private pay, insurance, all those things get factored into how a property is assessed. And these guys are very familiar with the more complex nuances of that type of appraisal. If the Absolut property was going to go further to trial … there were several lawyers who are well-known in this area that do appraisal work, defense work, that said we’re not touching nursing homes.”

Also during the meeting, Halas explained the 2013 budget is more or less on the right track for revenues and expenditures. For a norm of about 83 percent at the end of October, the general fund has an accrued revenue of 78 percent and disbursed expenses of 70 percent; the water fund has an accrued revenue of 81 percent and disbursed expenses of 74 percent; and the wastewater treatment fund has an accrued revenue of 73 percent and disbursed expenses of 76 percent.

“The next two months are the critical ones,” Halas said. “They’re the final months.”

“So we won’t really know until the end of the year whether we were good with our estimates,” Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak said.

Halas also brought up that the committee may want to look into whether all city vehicles with insurance payments on them are still in service, as part of inventory control.

“We are going through and we’re finding some discrepancies,” he said. “It could be they have the wrong VIN number someplace or whatever on both ends, but we have to do some research. First, we did the (list of) properties. Now, we’re going through the vehicles. We’re not insuring vehicles that we shouldn’t, I just think we have to double-check some of them.”

Halas added there are about 50 or 60 vehicles in total that should all be checked.

The committee also agreed on looking into methods and procedures to possibly recover tens of thousands of dollars in lost funds from recent emergency property demolitions. The city took down three buildings this year that were heavily damaged by fire, including those at 79 W. Doughty St., 128 Lincoln Ave. and 157 Point Drive N. All three properties have liens on them.

Comments on this article may be sent to gfox@observertoday.com