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Assessor quits, leaving reval in doubt

City Assessor Peter J. Galarneau has resigned to take a job in Cooperstown, leaving it unlikely that Lockport will be able to complete a citywide property revaluation this year, as the mayor and Common Council had directed.

Galarneau said Tuesday that he resigned last week to take a post as Otsego County's director of real property services, a job he said he was urged to apply for by two friends in that area.

But Galarneau, a Lockport native who joined the city in October 2006, said he was increasingly dissatisfied with the situation here because of relations with his two-woman staff, whom he contended were more interested in union work rules than in helping him prepare the reassessment.

"The work environment wasn't to my liking," Galarneau said. "I'm more of a hands-on person."

But he said he was told by the staff that he wasn't allowed to enter property photographs into the computer system, while the workers refused to leave the office to help survey some of the city's 6,000 properties. "It is not in their job description to go outside the office," he said.

Real property appraiser Lena D. Villella said, "I've been there 22 years, and I never had to go into the field and help the assessor with his job."

The new tax roll isn't due for filing until June 1, but Mayor Michael W. Tucker said that it doesn't look as if a full revision will be done by then.

Galarneau, a former president of the New York State Assessors Association, said that given the staffing situation, an update of property inventory -- tallying the correct measurements of every property and the proper number and size of garages, sheds, porches, decks and pools -- cannot be done without hiring an outside firm.

"The mayor's been great. The Council's been excellent," Galarneau said. But he said the Council did not want to spend the money to hire an outside firm, which, at $25 per parcel, would have cost $150,000.

Tucker said he pushed Galarneau to get the revaluation done this year. Parts of the city have been redone in recent years, in some cases with severe accompanying controversy, but the whole city was last reassessed in 2001.

"I'm anxious to get back on track, but most important, it's got to be done right. It's got to withstand challenges," Tucker said. "It's not going to get done. That's not all [Galarneau's] fault."

Tucker said he now has to decide whether to hire another assessor, try to share another community's assessor or ask Niagara County to do it.

The last scenario would mean that the county would be creating a service it has never before offered, although it received a state grant last year to study the feasibility of countywide assessing. A referendum would be needed to implement the change.
The city has run through three assessors in the last five years. "If the inventory was in good shape," Tucker said, "we wouldn't keep changing assessors."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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