Johnstown council tables reval contract for firm

JOHNSTOWN – The Common Council on Monday tabled a proposal to hire an appraisal firm to do a revaluation of properties because members said they need more information.

The council will conduct a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall to revisit the issue.

“I felt we should have been allowed more discussion about a need for a reval,” said 3rd Ward Councilwoman Helen Martin.

First Ward Councilwoman Cindy Lakata added, “I’d like to see some more information before I make a vote.”

The city hasn’t had a revaluation since 1990.

The city has 3,663 parcels and the state equalization rate is currently at 70 percent. But some city officials desire a citywide revaluation to boost that rate toward 100 percent.

Some members of the council were at odds with Mayor Michael Julius about the process that led up to Monday night’s proposed action at City Hall to hire GAR Associates Inc. of Amherst, Erie County, for $220,000.

In addition to Martin’s concern about the need for a reassessment, council members expressed concerns about a lack of information on other firms’ proposals and how the revaluation will be paid for by the city.

City Treasurer Michael Gifford said the city has $85,000 budgeted this year in the assessor’s professional services account. He said he has not seen a final version of a payment plan from GAR Associates.

On the floor Monday was a proposed resolution to hire GAR – a firm that at the invitation of city Assessor Frank Parker gave a presentation to the council in February before requests for proposals were publicly sought. After GAR’s presentation, the city on March 21 fielded RFPs from three professional firms willing to conduct the revaluation.

GAR ended up being the lowest proposal and other proposals opened were from: KLW Municipal Inc. of Buffalo – $227,900; and Emminger Newton Pigeon Magyar Inc. of Buffalo – $272,250. Under the law for such professional services, the city isn’t required to take the lowest cost for a proposal.

Martin said she’s not “totally opposed” to a city properties’ revaluation. She also noted only one firm – GAR Associates – was allowed to present a public proposal to the council. She said the council needs an “educated comparison” between GAR and the other proposals.

Julius told the council he thought members received information on the other proposals, but the council members said they didn’t.

“Basically, you people have been talking about this [for] two years,” said Julius, who started his term in January.

The mayor said Parker had “problems” with the proposals other than GAR Associates that came in.

“Their references were terrible,” Julius said.

Lakata responded, “I don’t believe that is the gist of any of the conversation.”

Parker, who attended the session, told the council he checked the references of all three firms.

“Everybody I talked to said GAR has an excellent reputation for dealing with people,” he said. “I think we’re lucky to get them myself.”

Parker said he received a call from the state saying a firm must be hired soon for the revaluation to be reflected on the 2015 city tax rolls.

“This is a ‘time is of the essence’ thing,” he said. “We need to do this.”