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West Seneca, Lancaster mull sharing an assessor

Lancaster and West Seneca are looking into sharing an assessor, a move that officials say could save at least $90,000 for the two towns.

West Seneca has been without an assessor for four years. The town's acting assessor retired in June, leaving just a secretary and a real property technician staffing the office.

The state's Office of Real Property Services has been keeping an eye on the situation, offering help where it can, but urging a longer-term solution.

"The state approached me about how I was going to solve the problem, and they asked if I was interested in doing something with another town. They suggested Lancaster," said West Seneca Supervisor Wallace Piotrowski. "I said, 'That's fine, give me a proposal.' I'm looking to share services with another town to save money."

The proposal would have Lancaster Assessor David C. Marrano splitting his time between Lancaster and West Seneca. This year, he is scheduled to make $65,163, more than $10,000 less than the assessor's salary in West Seneca's budget.

Piotrowski and Lancaster Supervisor Robert H. Giza said they have discussed the general idea of sharing an assessor, but no details such as salary. Any agreement would face approval by the two town boards.

Under the state's proposal, each town would maintain its assessor's office and existing staff, so residents would still be able to go to their local town hall to file for tax exemptions or take care of other business. Neither Giza nor Piotrowski expects to have to add staff, they said.

As part of the agreement, West Seneca's assessments would move to full value. Currently, parcels in that town are assessed at 46 percent.

The arrangement would lead to additional funding from the state, which tries to encourage governments to share services. A state program reimburses towns $5 a parcel to stay at full value; if West Seneca and Lancaster share an assessor, they would get $7 a parcel from the state.

West Seneca would pay Lancaster $54,000 a year as part of the agreement. The state estimates the arrangement would yield $50,000 a year in savings for West Seneca, and $40,000 for Lancaster.

"If we can save anybody in Western New York $90,000, it's worth the savings," Giza said. "We're always looking for those types of options."

Piotrowski, though, estimates West Seneca's savings much higher -- closer to $140,000 a year -- because the town would be saving the salary and benefits of an assessor, as well as a real estate appraiser.

West Seneca has been without an assessor for four years, since Edward J. Hummel resigned after decades in the job. The FBI launched an investigation into allegations that he had grossly underassessed many properties in the town.

He was later charged with fraud for allegedly playing slot machines while he was supposed to be working. Hummel died before the investigation into town assessments was finished.

The Town Board appointed Edward T. Toy, the town's real estate appraiser, as acting assessor, a position he held until he retired in June. Since then, the town has been without even an acting assessor.

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com