Town leaders commune with constituents on lake shore

VAN BUREN POINT – Councilmen for the town of Portland ventured off Main Street and headed to the lakefront to conduct town business and hear from their constituency on Wednesday.

“I’d like to thank the Van Buren Bay Association for having us here tonight. Some of the goals from our Comprehensive Plan were better ways to communicate with all portions of the town, so we thought we would try hosting a council meeting here and see how it goes. This is an important part of the town, and it’s also the farthest north east corner of the town. We’d like to continue this every year at this time, hosting a meeting here at your meeting hall,” stated Town Supervisor Dan Schrantz.

A well-attended meeting of lakefront residents was the setting for a continued conversation between concerned town residents who are voluntarily undertaking a grassroots effort to swim against the current of what Portland’s equalization rate shift did to taxes in 2012 and the Portland town council.

John D’Arcangelo, a Van Buren summer resident, opened the public comment inquiring if Town Assessor Dea Anna Wheeler had compiled a list of criteria that would be factored in potentially raising a home’s assessment, and could in turn, negatively impact the end result of the equalization rate. Residents are independently breaking down all of the factors that could lend to a shift in equalization rate and are hoping to save all town ratepayers a surprise at the mailbox if taxes go haywire as they did in 2012.

The town supervisor responded to D’Arcangelo and stated the council’s feeling was to let all of the current data collection be received before any assessment or revaluation decisions were made. Councilman Gary Miller reminded residents that a reassessment would not be done at this time, and that the firm of KLW out of Buffalo has been retained by the town to update the town’s property records, which were quite out of date.

Some residents still voiced concern that if there were items at their properties that could negatively impact their tax bill, how soon new information would be entered and accurately captured on their tax bill.

The town supervisor answered that Wheeler would have until March 1 to make any changes found as a result of the data collection.

One resident asked specifically about fixing a structural foundation in an effort to do something proactive to accurately reflect their assessment.

“If you’re just fixing a foundation because it’s falling in, you’re simply maintaining it. If you’re fixing it to build a new living quarter above it, that changes the whole concept. I know you had wanted some clarification on some of these things and it was promised by us to list this information on the website,” answered Schrantz.

The supervisor also noted the town is working on linking the town’s website and the county’s GIS website so that any questions that could be answered by that route would be readily available to residents.

Lake shore resident Mark Rand, who has led the grassroots effort in surpassing the state’s maze of formulaic anarchy in determining an equalization rate, pushed further.

“The council has the authority to facilitate any effort to get any data changes. We’d like a copy of the town’s database that is used to help the state determine the rate. We need to see what’s available in Chautauqua County to facilitate what we’re doing. And we’d like to get it soon before any data gets changed,” stated Rand.

“We need to see ‘What is there now?’ and ‘What is there, later?’ so that there’s a comparison if there’s a change in property information,” added D’Arcangelo.

Resident Bill Ploetz, another organizer of the grassroots effort, summarized their request.

“Is the state just blowing smoke in suggesting that the Town of Portland has information that’s out of date, or did we have that big of a problem? That’s what we want to be able to see. We’re trying to help the town do a lot of this task and need to find out did we make a lot of changes? Or did we not? And how does that weigh out in the end? The state has been stonewalling us in our FOIL requests and only has to respond with documents that they produce. They’re not telling us how they’re calculating. This is open government and this should be available to us. Let me reiterate, it has nothing to do with assessment, it has to do with analyzing how this rate is calculated.”

The town supervisor agreed that there should be no reason why Wheeler couldn’t receive and provide a copy of the town’s database to the group to help analyze a solution.

Councilman Rick Manzella asked for a resolution allowing the town to encourage Wheeler to supply a comprehensive copy of the database of all town properties to the council as soon as possible. The councilmen approved the resolution, and as of Friday Schrantz reported that Wheeler is complying with the council’s request to make the information available for the purpose of statistical analysis.

“This is the spirit we’ve gotten from the state. They think we’re not smart enough to handle this information. We know how to work the numbers, and we can handle the data without misusing it or using it wrongly. Maybe the weakness is on the other side. ” added Ploetz.

The council once again thanked the residents for hosting the council meeting and adjourned until their next meeting on Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.