The City of Tonawanda took another step toward its first citywide property reassessment Tuesday when the Common Council approved an agreement with an outside consulting firm to help with the massive project.
Although the move is usually controversial in the community, Tonawanda has not gone through a citywide assessment in 17 years. As a result, the city's equalization rate has dropped to 73 percent, which hurts the city's borrowing ability.
Tonawanda decided to seek additional help for reassessment because the city assessor's office has been downsized in recent years, and Assessor Patricia Bacon will need help dealing with the public.
According to the city's plan, all reassessed properties will be fed into a computer program that will continually reassess the property on its own, thus eliminating the need for a another major project. Under the plan, all of the city's property assessments would also be available online.
The city received three bids for the project and interviewed the companies that were interested in the project. Even though JD Brearley Consultants of Hamburg offered the middle bid of $106,500, city officials ultimately chose it because company presented a plan that was tailored to Tonawanda's needs.
Council President Carleton R. Zeisz explained to residents attending Tuesday's meeting that the company will help the public better understand the reassessment process.
"It's not about raising taxes; it's about getting everybody on a level playing field," Zeisz said. "We looked for somebody who could provide a good source of public relations to the community. Being able to educate everybody on what we're doing [is] important."
Councilman Blake Boyle said members went with JD Brearley because they were more comfortable with its services. The company that offered the lowest bid at nearly $64,000 told the Council that the city would be doing most of the work.
"After having a couple of interviews, we just felt that [JD Brearley] was better," Zeisz said.
Reassessment of the entire city will take more than a year. Residents and businesses will not see a change in their tax bill until at least 2008, when their school tax invoice arrives. Reassessment will not affect the city's property taxes until 2009.