Weekly Feature

2010-04-08 / Editorial

Town Board agrees to share Elma assessor


The towns of West Seneca and Elma are one step closer to sharing assessor services after the West Seneca Town Board approved a proposal agreement during its Monday night meeting.

The merge of services would save West Seneca roughly $150,000 annually, according to Supervisor Wallace Piotrowski — an advocate for downsizing government, particularly through sharing or merging of services, while “doing more with less.”

West Seneca is expected to pay $36,140 a year to cover the salary and benefits of Elma’s assessor, Kandace S. Wittmeyer. Officials said the offices in both towns and the three employees — two full-time and one part-time — currently in the West Seneca office will remain.

Wittmeyer will be expected to share her time between offices, alternating days each week — one week she will work in West Seneca on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the following week on Tuesday and Thursday.

In a work session prior to the board’s regular meeting, Councilwoman Sheila M. Meegan expressed concern for the disadvantages of not hiring a full-time assessor in West Seneca.

“Someone who comes from another town doesn’t have any real investment ... opposed to someone who lives here,” Meegan said. “We would be remiss in our responsibilities if we didn’t have a full-time assessor.”

She also said the town is understaffed in comparison to other municipalities with fewer parcels — West Seneca is said to have well more than 18,000 parcels, whereas Elma has approximately 5,000.

“I just want to make sure we’re not trying to fix something with the Band-Aid approach, when we might say down the road that we need a full-time assessor,” Meegan said.

Piotrowski disagreed that the office is understaffed and said the three employees have done a “tremendous job” in updating records and maintaining everyday operations.

West Seneca has been without an assessor for roughly four years due to Edward Hummel’s resignation. Real property appraiser Ed Toy served as acting assessor but retired in June — a vacancy the town is not looking to fill in order to save money.

“We can do more with less employees ... we need to make changes,” Piotrowski said, adding that it’s unnecessary to have an assessor at Town Hall every day. “Saving residents’ money is the number one thing ... and here’s an opportunity to save some money.”

Piotrowski concluded that portion of the work session by saying he’s willing to move ahead with the agreement and that if the merge doesn’t prove to be advantageous after one year, then a change can be made.

The three-member board agreed to the proposal after an executive session during the board’s regular meeting. Now, West Seneca must await confirmation of the agreement from Elma’s Town Board before the merge is official, and then legal documents can be drafted.

In a separate interview with The Bee, Elma Supervisor Michael Nolan said he is optimistic about a positive vote at the next Town Board meeting, which is slated for April 21. However, Elma will also hold a work session prior to voting, which is scheduled for April 14.

In another matter at the work session, the board continued a discussion from prior meetings on the possibility of expanding the Police Department across the lower level of Town Hall. This inevitably relates to who or what will move into the vacant space at the Burchfield Nature & Art Center on Union Road.

Piotrowski said a state grant worth $350,000 could be obtained to renovate Town Hall for the expansion — ultimately costing taxpayers nothing — and that the Engineering, Building and Plumbing departments should move into the BNAC.

Council Members Meegan and Dale Clarke, however, feel there are many greater problems that need to be addressed, predominantly relating to the aging structure of Town Hall. They said the problems should all be resolved at once, rather than taking a piecemeal approach.

Though the police are deserving and in need of more space, they said constituents should not have to travel between buildings to take care of business.

“All business with the town should be done at Town Hall,” Meegan said.

Many resident critics strongly feel that none of the town offices should be housed in the center, which was originally intended to accommodate nature- and arts-related groups.

Clarke said if the town did what Piotrowski proposed, residents would be upset to have to travel back and forth to do business with the town. He further challenged Piotrowski by saying a new building to replace the current Town Hall might be what it takes to address space issues and such structural problems as leaks caused by rain on the lower level.

“We inherited these buildings in such disrepair, and it’s our responsibility to make the changes,” Meegan said. “When we got on board we had great ideas, but what have we been doing? Cleaning house...if we have to spend $3 [million] to $4 million to do the proper thing...I think they [the taxpayers] might say yes to it.”

“We can’t keep doing Mickey Mouse repairs to something that’s vital to the day-to-day operations. It’s open 24/7, and it shows. We need to fix it and do it responsib ly...that’s our job...let’s get bids for a proposal to add on to the Police Department and have a public hearing and another good discussion,” she said.

The next Town Board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, April 19, in the courtroom at Town Hall, 1250 Union Road.

e-mail: kmcdowell@beenews.com

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