Johnstown hires revaluation firm

JOHNSTOWN – The Common Council on Monday narrowly approved a $220,000 contract with an Erie County appraisal firm to do a citywide property revaluation.

The council had intended to hire GAR Associates Inc. of Amherst on April 21, but some members said they needed more information. The council voted Monday to approve a final contract with the firm during a special session at City Hall.

Mayor Michael Julius said Tuesday the revaluation process for the city’s 3,663 parcels will probably begin as soon as possible. He said the revaluation is sorely needed and the results will be positive.

“It’s going to be a fairness of taxes for everybody in the city of Johnstown,” he said.

Julius said the city can’t continue to operate off nearly 25-year-old data. The last time the city had a revaluation was in 1990. The city’s state equalization rate is currently at 70 percent, but some city officials desire a citywide revaluation to boost that rate toward 100 percent.

The resolution to authorize a contract with GAR Associates Inc. passed by a 3-2 vote. In favor of the contract were Councilman-at-Large Christopher Swatt, 1st Ward Councilwoman Cindy Lakata and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Kathi Iannotti. Opposed were 3rd Ward Councilwoman Helen Martin and 4th Ward Councilman Edwin Queeney III.

“We weren’t really given enough information,” said Martin. “I would have liked it explained in more depth.”

Martin previously questioned the necessity of the revaluation at this time, especially since it affects the city budget. She said the matter has been “broached” this year by Julius and Assessor Frank Parker, who couldn’t be reached this morning.

City Treasurer Michael Gifford said previously the city has $85,000 budgeted this year in the assessor’s professional services account to help pay for the revaluation.

Julius said he doesn’t expect the city must borrow for the rest of GAR Associates’ $220,000 fee to do the property reassessment. But he said the city should be able to afford the revaluation over time.

“The payments are getting stretched out,” Julius stated.

The mayor said the city “within days” should be able to get legal approvals for the contract with GAR and begin moving toward doing the revaluation.

The city on March 21 fielded requests for proposals from three professional firms willing to conduct the revaluation. GAR ended up being the lowest proposal. Other proposals opened were from KLW Municipal Inc. of Buffalo – $227,900; and Emminger Newton Pigeon Magyar Inc. of Buffalo – $272,250.

GAR Associates gave a presentation to the council in February.

Parker has said GAR’s work could mean the revaluation would be reflected on the 2015 city tax rolls.

GAR Associates Vice President Cindy Baire told city officials the revaluation could be done by next spring. She said her company has six full-time staff members in Albany. She said her firm stresses public information, conducting workshops and working closely with property owners.