CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WKBW) — On Feburary 8, 2022, during a Town Board work session, Town Board councilmembers and the town's assessor, Jill Murphy, spent 15 minutes discussing the details of the proposed amendment to the town's professional services contract with GAR Associates, which would expand GAR's scope of real estate assessment work to incorporate residential in addition to commercial properties.
During the discussion, Benczkowski repeatedly asks why the town would enter into a contract for residential assessment services if they are not planning on doing a residential property assessment. Councilmembers Brian Pilarski and Brian Nowak also sought clarification over whether a reassessment would indeed happen if they approved this amended contract with GAR.
Murphy repeatedly assures the supervisor and councilmembers that no town-wide assessments would be considered without further discussion and board approval. At one point, Murphy responds to Benczkowski saying "we’re not discussing anything assessment related at this point because it’s too early."
After the work session, the Town Board voted 6-1 in favor of amending the contract with GAR Associates to include residential properties as part of its professional services portfolio. Benczkowski was the only member to vote against the contract.
Watch the work session discussion:
Below is a transcription of key moments from the work session discussion:
Supervisor Diane Benczkowski (DB): Jill murphy are you on? I did have a couple questions. This is the contract that you want us to enter into with GARR, correct?
Jill Murphy (JM): Yes, it’s an amended contract just to add residential services to their commercial services. It’s just for professional services.
DB: Can you just walk us through, so what are you planning on doing then now in 2022?
JM: Well, once I have them on board we will meet with the board and discuss that. Right now it’s just to get their services so we can run the documents and things we need for New York state.
DB: Yeah, but so, what are you, it looks like you’re planning on doing another reassessment this year?
JM: I don’t have any plans at this point.
DB: I guess I’m confused. It says here they would do some –
JM: It’s a proposal, it’s a proposal. We have yet to discuss that. This is just to secure services. I do have money in my budget, it won’t require any additional funds.
DB: OK but um what are they going to propose? What are they proposing to do? I guess I’m confused then if you said we’re not doing it, it just said that they are going to be looking to do another reassessment based on neighborhoods?
JM: That doesn’t say that. That’s not what it says.
DB: It says we did a 2021 town-wide ‘re-val’. We achieved the level however New York State has informed us that the new sales date range for the 2022 assessment is lower than 100%.
JM: When we run the numbers, if they’re under 100% then we’re going to come to the Board and we’ll have a discussion, but we have to run the numbers first.
DB: OK. So then that’s all they’d be doing? What if you had to do another reassessment?
JM: It’s listed on that sheet. It’s listed on the sheet what services they’d be providing.
DB: Does anybody else have any comments on this?
DB: It says upon approval from assessor on the trends, GAR will apply trends to each part with each designated neighborhood and produce a spreadsheet for review. The assessor and assessment staff will review the predicted values—
JM: It’s the same contract as the commercial, it’s the same information that’s on the commercial contract. All it would do is it would expand it to run the residential figures. It’s the same services that we’re providing for commercial.
DB: OK but why are we doing this now if we haven’t decided if we’re doing a full reassessment this year?
JM: This is part of the process to decide where we’re going to go from here.
DB: Well I for one am not for a reassessment this year or even doing partial neighborhood reassessment.
JM: But Diane that’s not what we’re discussing tonight. We’re just discussing adding residential services to this contract. That’s all. We’re not discussing anything assessment related at this point because it’s too early. We still have to run the numbers and we have to bring that to the Board. So right now it’s simply just a contract amendment.
Brian Nowak (BN): Jill, Brian Nowak here. The, so this contract would essentially allow us to simply run the numbers, correct?
JM: That’s correct.
BN: So without the contract we couldn’t even collect the information to make an informed decision, correct?
JM: That is correct.
Brian Pilarski (BP): Getting in a contract with them is more-less like a retainer (sic), just saying hey we’re lining up the work if need be?
JM: That’s correct.
Michael Jasinski (MJ): How much is the retainer cost?
JM: We already have them on retainer. It’s just an amendment.
MJ: And how much is that? How much is the amended amount? I don’t have it in front of me because I can’t run two screens on this miniature computer, so.
JM: Um, it says up to $50,000. There’s not a specific dollar amount but it is money that’s already in the budget so it wouldn’t take us over budget.
MJ: So how could we agree on something if we don’t have a concrete number?
JM: It’s simply a contract amendment for professional services. It’s up to $50,000. Because of the nature of this work, I can’t tell you ahead of time dollar for dollar. But I can tell you that it won’t go over $50,000 therefore it wont go out of my budget.
MJ: So getting to Diane’s point, if we’re, you know, she’s saying we don’t need the assessment, aren’t we supposed to do a full town assessment in three years? Why would we retain services if we’ll do a full town assessment in three years?
JM: Because assessing doesn’t stop because you don’t do a town-wide. There’s still buildings being made, there’s still construction, there’s all kinds of things going on that need valuation.
MJ: So explain that process in laymans terms for somebody like me how does that, like, from fruition to end, how does that whole process work?
JM: What process is that?
MJ: So we say, ok we agree to what they do, so we know that it can’t exceed $50,000, so what exactly are we getting for $50,000?
JM: Well it’s going to depend. If they run the reports. It’s all included on the sheet that I sent out. I sent it out last week --
MJ: Can somebody put that up?
JM: I sent it out last week so that everybody could look at it and then ask me questions. I guess I thought everybody understood.
MJ: I think part of the problem is, and I’ll speak for myself, we don’t really understand it. I mean, $50,000 is an excessive amount of money just to retain somebody.
JM: We’re not paying $50,000 to retain them. It’s up and to $50,000. We could spend $20. We don’t know until we get into a project.
MJ: So where do you think the fair ballpark number would be?
JM: You’re asking me for something I can’t give you right now—
JM: I honestly am not prepared to answer that.
MJ: So if you don’t have the questions answered, how are we able to get our questions answered?
JM: You’re asking me for something that isn’t related to this. You're asking me for project information. I’m looking to secure a contractor, that’s it –
MJ: Right, so when I have someone come to my house and give me an estimate to replace a boiler, they’re not going to say it could be over $50,000, they’re going to say hey it costs this much money.
JM: You’re comparing apples and oranges. This is a, this is a –
MJ: It’s an estimate. If somebody gives you an estimate of cost, you want this estimate to be pretty accurate. When you’re talking $50,000 maybe in the grand scheme of things it’s not a lot of money but to a taxpayer that’s a heck of a lot of money.
BP: With this resolution, to my understanding all we’re doing is switching from one current vendor providing the services to assess the (sic) if we needed them, of which we’re not doing anything right at this point, to a new vendor who’s already providing commercial assessments on a current contract. So all we’re doing is amending the current contract with GAR and getting rid of the contract with the current one with residential right now. There’s no price tag to put on the assessments because we’re not doing assessments right now. We’re just amending the contract to say ‘hey you’re now doing both residential and commercial instead of just commercial.’ Am I correct on that?
JM: That’s exactly right. In fact, we already had money put aside in the budget for the other contractor but going to one makes sense for our office, because of time management, because of staff time it takes. I think I outlined it in my email sufficiently. We’re just looking to condense to one contractor. There’s no additional funds that haven’t been put in my budget. There’s nothing else, it’s literally just a contract amendment.
Writer's note: discussion continues for approximately three minutes about the details of the assessor's RFP process to secure GAR Associates. Jasinski and Murphy spar over the flow of information and line of questioning. Discussion gets back on track when Brian Nowak asks Benczkowski to restore meeting focus.
BN: Can the Chair take order of the meeting please?
DB: Yes, Councilmember Nowak. I did want to mention though, when I was reading this GAR Associates, I also had a couple more questions as far as, it is presuming that we’re going to be doing some type of reassessment because number seven says GAR will create a cover lever for review and approval to accompany the change of assessment notices.
JM: If we go in that direction.
DB: Well see, that’s where it’s confusing because that didn’t explain that.
JM: You know what, a week ago I sent an email and I said please send me questions. You’re asking me these things now. Why didn’t anybody send me this ahead of time so we could discuss it, and not in a public forum because this is, this is, you know this is touchy information.
DB: Well this is all public information so we have to talk about it here. But needless to say –
JM: I would have been prepared.
DB: Yes and I can understand—
MJ: We don’t have the questions we need to ask. It’s up to you to maybe educate us on the process. That’s all I’ve asked for.
Writer's note: conversation gets derailed as Murphy and Jasinski once again spar over access to information.
BN: It’s pretty straightforward what’s being proposed here. To my mind, and Councilmember Pilarski was getting to this, we should just move forward with an up or down vote on it.
Writer's note: Supervisor Benczkowski moves onto next topic of discussion after members' inability to reach consensus on the resolution. The Board ultimately voted 6-1 in favor of amending the contract with GAR Associates to include residential properties as part of its professional services portfolio. Benczkowski was the only member to vote against the contract.