State Criticizes Fulton Board of Assessment Review

A report from the state Comptroller’s office finds that two members of the Fulton Board of Assessment Review were more successful in appealing their property assessments than the average citizens who came before the board to argue for reductions.

Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward agreed with the report’s recommendations but added that the report pointed out no wrongdoing.  “They said there was nothing criminal,” he said.

You can read the complete Comptroller’s Office report here (pdf)

The report says that in 2009, the chairman of the Board of Assessment Review and another member of the board filed grievances with the board over the assessments on their properties.

The report did not identify the individuals, but Mayor Ron Woodward said the chairman was Ron Patrick and the member was Holly Carpenter.

Patrick appealed assessments on 39 properties, including his home, a piece of vacant property next door, and 37 residential properties owned with other people, according to the report.  Carpenter appealed the assessment on her home.  According to the report:

  • The two board members disclosed their conflict of interest to the city Assessor, but not to the Mayor.  Disclosure to the chief executive officer is required by law.  Fulton’s mayor is the city’s chief executive officer;
  • There is no written record of whether the two members voted on their own grievances. Woodward says the two members did not vote and were not present when their properties were discussed.  He said the board audio tapes its meetings and considers them to be the minutes of the meeting;
  • The two members won reductions totaling $223,555 with an annual tax savings estimated at $11,411.  Carpenter’s assessment reduction was $15,700 and her tax savings was $801,  All of the rest went to Patrick’s grievances.

The Comptroller’s office said in its report that the Fulton board “members had a high success rate in getting their assessments reduced. In total, there were 171 complaints filed for non-commercial properties in 2009 (40 were filed by the [Board of Assessment Review] members and 131 were filed by other property owners). Although the other property owners received 64 percent of the assessment reductions they requested, we found that the [Board of Assessment Review] Chairman and second [Board of Assessment Review] member collectively received 92 percent.”

The report said that doing business in that manner could lead the public to doubt the fairness of the board’s decisions.  Woodward agreed. “Sometimes, the look of impropriety is just as bad.  It creates mistrust.”

The report indicated the city should have created an agreement with another community’s Board of Assessment Review to review grievances from members of the city board.

Woodward said he has reached out to Oswego Mayor Randy Bateman and the two cities are working out an agreement to hear the assessment grievances of the other city’s board members.

He said the Comptroller’s audit began with a complaint from a citizen, whom he said was not a city taxpayer.  Common Council member Tom Kenyon noted that the person who made the complaint “called me every night for weeks.  He asked me, ‘What are you going to do about it?’  I said, ‘Nothing’.”  He said he tried to explain that the Mayor and Council have no control over the assessment of properties and appeals of assessments and that the Council would take actions after the Comptroller’s investigation indicated what changes to make.

The Comptroller’s office report was “probably not what (the citizen who complained) wanted to hear,” said Woodward. “He probably wanted blood.”

Woodward said Patrick felt like he was being picked on, while Carpenter said she would have preferred to have her assessment challenge heard by another city’s board.

“We have nothing to hide,” Woodward said. “And we don’t want the appearance of impropriety.”

In a letter attached to the report, the city promised to prepare a plan to correct the problems as soon as the Comptroller’s office issues its final report.