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Sole assessor takes reins in Colton

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COLTON — Tina M. Miller has taken over as the town’s sole assessor, after years of having three part-time elected officials on the job.

The Town Council changed the law in November to create a sole full-time assessor who is appointed rather than elected. This is how the assessor is chosen in most nearby municipalities.

Ms. Miller, who served as chairwoman of the three assessors before this year, took the reins Jan. 1.

She said she plans to keep things much as they have been.

Colton has one of the lowest state equalization rates of any municipality in St. Lawrence County, at 4.21 percent. This means that properties are assessed at 4.21 percent of their actual value.

Ms. Miller said low assessment values mean a higher tax rate, while raising the assessment would lower the rates and keep the total amount of money brought in about the same. The low assessment values have little impact on taxpayers or the town, she said.

There are, however, arguments against very low rates of assessment.

The equalization rate is applied to the assessed value of property to determine what residents pay for county and school taxes. This is supposed to allow everyone to pay his or her fair share, even if an assessment is well beneath the actual value of a property. This applies as long as all assessments are equitable, St. Lawrence County Real Property Director Darren W. Colton said. However, going for a long time without a revaluation can lead to skewed property values.

“I believe towns need to update on a regular cycle in order to keep equity in their assessment roll,” Mr. Colton said.

Most St. Lawrence County municipalities have had a reassessment in the past five years, according to state records. Colton has not done a full update of its tax rolls in more than 35 years.

Inequitable assessments can lead to costly court challenges for municipalities, state Department of Taxation and Finance spokesman Geoffrey T. Gloak said.

While it is possible for communities to have low assessed values while remaining equitable, state statistics indicate that Colton’s taxes are less equitable than the national average, according to Mr. Gloak.

“It’s more likely that some are too high and some are too low,” he said.

There are no plans for Colton to have a revaluation of town property, but this may change depending on the results of a lawsuit with Erie Boulevard Hydropower.

The company is challenging assessments at its plants in municipalities along the Raquette River, including Colton.

The case has not been resolved, but town officials are in settlement talks. Ms. Miller said she could not comment on the possible outcome of the litigation, or how it could affect the assessment of town properties.

The decision to move to one assessor was made to save town money, and because the other two are retiring.

The town has budgeted $28,000 for Ms. Miller’s salary in 2013, a savings of more than $2,000 from 2012.

Colton also hopes to save on travel costs. Every assessor in the state requires at least 12 hours of mandatory training annually, and this soon may increase to 24 hours. When Colton had three assessors, the town was fronting the cost for travel and hotels.

Her term expires in October, at which point she likely will be reappointed to another six-year term.

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