County looks at uniting positions with city

Friday, August 27, 2010
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— Consolidating police is still out, but the county will consider Mayor Brian U. Stratton’s idea for consolidating the assessment office.

With Assessor Patrick Mastro taking early retirement, Stratton said he wants the county to take over assessments. He envisions a system that would eventually handle all property assessments in the county.

County Legislature Chairwoman Susan Savage said she’s open to the idea. It’s particularly relevant to the county because its Real Property Tax Service Agency director may retire under the same incentive that persuaded Mastro to go.

The county Legislature approved the retirement incentive for Director Nicholas Barber on Thursday. He said he’s leaning toward taking it but hasn’t decided yet.

When all of the county retirees announce their intentions, Savage plans to meet with Stratton to discuss everyone on their early-retirement lists.

Workers are leaving through a state incentive program, which both the city and county agreed to offer to their employees in an effort to cut their work forces and reduce costs.

Stratton intends to simply eliminate many of the positions once the workers retire. But Savage said others, who must be replaced, could perhaps be shared by both governments. That would allow the municipalities to find qualified department heads while still meeting the state’s retirement incentive rules, which say replacements can be paid no more than half of the original employee’s salary.

“We’ll see if there’s any ways we can consolidate positions,” Savage said.

Consolidating the entire assessment office could save the city much more money than just replacing Mastro.

Schenectady is budgeted to spend $400,000 on the assessment office this year, including Mastro’s $82,000 salary.

The city spent another $17,000 on the board of assessment review this year.

Eliminating even part of that cost by transferring the jobs to the county and paying for a portion would save the city far more than what it may save by hiring a new assessor at half of Mastro’s salary.

In total, the city will save $639,000 next year by not replacing most of the retirees. But the city could have saved far more. The retirement incentive persuaded only 19 city workers to leave. There were 121 eligible and city officials asked all of them to retire, noting that Stratton may have to lay off staff to balance the 2012 budget.

Only 69 workers said they would consider leaving. And when city officials followed up by asking all of them to sign irrevocable commitment letters, just 19 signed. That means Stratton may have to start layoffs soon.

“We haven’t excluded the possibility of layoffs,” he said. “I would hope that all of those who chose not to [take the incentive] made the choice that was in their best interests.”

Mastro, 57, plans to take a job with a private company that performs reassessments. He has spoken with several companies but hasn’t finalized his new job yet.

“I plan to keep working,” he said.

He said he was willing to take the incentive — which amounts to an extra 10 months of credit in the state retirement system — because he’d finished what he wanted to accomplish.

“I thought I could make a contribution in completing an assessment,” he said. “I saved them about a million and a half, doing it in-house.”

Some property owners complained when their assessments skyrocketed after Mastro’s review. But that did not convince him to leave, he said.

“That comes with the territory. I knew that when I took this position,” he said. “In most cases, those people were under-assessed and not paying their fair share [before the reassessment]. It’s only natural that you’re going to take it out on somebody. It’s easy for the taxpayers to point the finger at you.”

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August 27, 2010
8:31 a.m.
daily1 says...

I have to say that I am a little taken back when I hear that Susan Savage supports the consolidation, when she categorically opposes consolidation of other services such as the area police departments. Have you consulted your county crony Chris gardener on your position yet Susan? The only thing we can hope for is that if you are elected in November you will take him with you...

August 27, 2010
11:25 a.m.
adam says...

Good riddance to Pat Mastro .....

In his tenure as City Assessor he has single handedly managed to bring the real estate market in the City of Schenectady to its knees.

His unnecessary rudeness to taxpayers, appraisers and City officials are legendary.

Mastro's recent City wide property reassessment, which penalized recent property buyers with much higher assessments and real estate taxes than the owners of comparable non-sold properties, has caused many financial hardship, diminished property values and much heartache.

His discriminatory actions have scared off new buyers of homes and commercial properties and the current real estate sales activity in Schenectady is just about zilch.

The City's potential legal costs, currently unbudgeted, for the future defense of the large number of tax grievance law suits in process, is going to further detract from Mastro's legacy

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