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Three assessors and a town supervisor opposed a proposal to exempt property improvements from immediate taxation Monday.

But another supervisor and the director of the Friendship Economic Development Zone backed the proposed local law during a public hearing before the Allegany County Legislature meeting opened.

Now the Legislature's Planning and Development Committee will decide what do do with the law. If adopted, it would give property owners who do certain work on their property a real estate tax breather -- bringing those improvements onto the tax rolls only after several years.

One of the rubs, however, said Robert Wilkins, currently an assessor for several towns and a former county real property tax service director, is a lack of definitions in the proposal.

"You really need some definitions. The law is so gray" it would be hard to apply, he said.

"If they don't meet the law, we're the ones who catch it," Wilkins said of assessors' relations with aggrieved property owners.

He said the proposal is faulty because it does not include financial limits for eligible improvements and makes no mention of how to handle equalization rates and their changes.

Mildred Brocious, the Wellsville assessor, said she was speaking against the proposal both privately and as an officer of the county assessors' association.

"The association feels there are enough exemptions," she said. "You need to help everybody, not just the few" who can afford home additions.

"As Mrs. Homeowner, I don't think we need more tax exemptions for the few," said Brocious, who is retiring soon as assessor.

Sandra Broughton, an assessor for several towns in the county, said she believes the fact that only a few of the taxing districts in the state have adopted this type of law since 1995 indicates the trouble it foreshadows.

Exempting improvements, she said, would mean a "shift in taxpayers' liability."

She said the statewide reduction in school tax liability for most homeowners has been "a Godsend." But that is as much movement of tax liability as she believes is appropriate for now.

"A lot of small towns, and that's what we are, count on physical changes to change their tax base," said Broughton.

Legislator Robert Heineman, R-Alfred, read Alfred Town Supervisor Chuck Jessup's objections into the record.

Alfred, with tax-exempt college and university property abundant in the community, does not need a further erosion of its tax base, according to Jessup.

On the other hand, Hume Supervisor Ted Hopkins told the Legislature he favors anything that will encourage homeowners to improve their property -- and the tax base.

Russell Combs, executive director of the EDZ in Friendship, said he lives by exemptions in attracting businesses -- and some home buyers -- to his zone.

Chairman John Walchli, R-Wellsville, returned the proposed local law to the committee of origin for further action.

In other action, the Legislature Monday:

Named County Treasurer James F. Mulholland, R-Wellsville, to serve as acting real property tax service director while a full-time person is sought. Robert Wright recently resigned the job, and Mulholland has been filling in.

County Administrator John Margeson said he expects to have a candidate for the job ready for Legislature approval by Jan. 1.

Mulholland will handle daily leadership in the tax office at a busy time, while corrections are being made in tax statements and bills are being refiled for those who have not paid taxes.

Legislator Curtis Corkey, R-Almond, told Mulholland he is aware of the "heavy burden in your office." Then he alone voted against the appointment, which carries a $6,000 stipend.

Approved a model four-year snow and ice removal contract with the towns in the county. Assistant Public Works Superintendent David Roeske said 20 of the 29 towns have signed their contracts.

The contract calls for the county to pay each town $2,350 per mile of county road tended this winter, with a $50 per mile increase in each of the next three years.

The county currently pays $2,200 per mile, he said.

Corkey and Legislator Brent Reynolds, R-Alfred, voted against the agreement.

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