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State Real Property Tax Services office layoffs worry assessors

October 5, 2011
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

RAY BROOK - Local assessors and county real property officials say they could lose a key resource if the state moves forward with a plan to lay off most of the employees at its Office of Real Property Tax Services here.

Ten people work out of the Ray Brook office, eight of whom are members of the Public Employees Federation union. Six of those workers received layoff notices last week after a majority of the union's members rejected a contract proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration. The layoffs will take effect Oct. 19 unless a new agreement can be reached.

John Stack, an ORPTS employee who is a PEF member and an Enterprise political blogger, said people in the office "are upset and in shock" about the prospect of losing their jobs. His job wasn't targeted.

Article Photos

More than half of the employees at the state Office of Real Property Tax Services in Ray Brook, seen here Tuesday, could be laid off Oct. 19.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

"Some are mad that people didn't vote yes in order to keep their jobs, or save other jobs," Stack said in an email. "Some voted no because they thought the contract was a bad one, even though they knew they might be affected. Most blame both Cuomo and the union leadership."

By a vote of 19,629 against to 16,906 in favor, PEF members turned down the state's five-year contract offer. It included three years of no pay raises, a $1,000 signing bonus in the third year and 2 percent pay raises in the last two years. Higher health care costs and furloughs were also included in the proposed deal.

Stack said he voted in favor of the contract because he thought state employees needed to share in the sacrifice.

"I never had a clue it would turn out like this," he said.

The office in Ray Brook administers property tax exemptions, helps assessors learn how to value properties and interpret real property tax law, sets yearly equalization rates for local municipalities and helps maintain a computerized database of real property information. The office also has a four-person forestry unit that assesses the value of all forested state land in New York, including in the Adirondack and Catskill parks. All four members of that unit received layoff notices, Stack said.

State officials didn't respond to questions from the Enterprise about how the Ray Brook office would continue to operate, or even if it would remain open, if it lost 60 percent of its staff. The office is located in a 4,800-square-foot building that was constructed just four years ago.

Stack said he's not sure what would happen.

"I don't know how we could actually do most of the items the state asks of us every year," he said. "Lots of new laws and or rules and regulations will have to be written or changed for this to work at all. Losing the forestry unit will have a significant effect throughout the whole state. The biggest loss will to be local assessors, county real property departments and taxpayers who have relied upon us for help and support."

Dawn Belden, assistant director of Essex County Real Property Tax Services, said the loss of so many employees at the state's Ray Brook office would be "devastating" to her office.

"Their support is very, very important to Essex County," she said. "They help all the assessors. They do a lot of analysis for us. They maintain the computer program. I don't know what will happen if they no longer have the people to do that. I think property assessment would become challenging. A lot of burden would be placed locally, I'm afraid."

Town of Tupper Lake Assessor Paul O'Leary said the loss of the employees in the forestry unit, in particular, would have a big impact on local communities in the Park.

"We don't have the resources that the state has to come up with those values," O'Leary said. "The loss of that - it's not going to be advantageous to all the local assessors."

A total of 3,496 PEF members are slated to be laid off by the Cuomo administration, including 301 employees in the state Department of Taxation and Finance, which includes Real Property Tax Services.

The six employees who received layoff notices at the Ray Brook office are among 15 in Essex County who would lose their jobs if the state moves forward with layoffs, according to a county-by-county breakdown of the layoffs. Another 51 state jobs held by PEF members are on the hook in Franklin County, 51 in St. Lawrence County and five in Clinton County.

PEF officials and the Cuomo administration are reportedly discussing ways to tweak the contract proposal. In a statement posted Tuesday afternoon on its website, PEF said it is trying to reach an agreement so it can be ratified by the membership in time to avoid the layoffs scheduled for Oct. 19.

"At this point the situation is very fluid," the union said.



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