What are the right qualifications for an assessor?
We’re encouraged that the debate over Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy’s choice for new assessor has shifted to one involving qualifications.
Even though McCarthy and City Council President Peggy King think otherwise, Bureau of Receipts Supervisor Ed Waterfield’s total lack of assessment experience is cause for concern; more so than the $9,000 raise the mayor and most City Council members recently seemed ready to give him.
Assessor is one of the most important jobs in city government, as it directly affects how much property tax people pay — and not just to the city, but to the county government and school district. If a property is assessed even slightly too high, or too low, the impact on its owner can be several hundred dollars or more — regardless of whether the municipalities’ tax rates go up or down in a given year.
So it’s important for assessors to have some training, to know what they’re doing from Day One, and to be able to resist the political pressure that often tries to interfere with their work. Though the state requires them to be certified, and have at least six months’ experience with the work before ascending to the job, McCarthy insists that Waterfield’s on-the-job training will suffice as experience, and that he will get certified within six months. Such circular logic might pass muster with the state if McCarthy makes him acting assessor during this period, in which case he shouldn’t be paid anywhere near the $82,000 McCarthy wanted to pay him.
Of equal concern in this latest turn of events, though, is McCarthy’s attitude about the job — that training, experience and certification (which all of Schenectady’s recent assessors have had) isn’t as important as the right attitude when it comes to dealing with inequities. The sentiment expressed by the mayor in Friday’s Gazette story — that “common sense,” i.e. a willingness to tweak individual assessments whenever taxpayers show they’re out of line, trumps the need for assessment uniformity — is alarming if for no other reason than it suggests he wants an assessor he can influence, rather than one who’s independent and above the political fray (as the city’s last two assessors were.)
Perhaps if McCarthy were himself trained or experienced in assessing, we’d be less concerned wtih his opinions on the subject. But he’s not, and thus should defer to those who do. With Waterfield, for the first six months, anyway, that would be a case of the blind leading the blind.