Michael Colaneri is in a fight for his job as assessor
History of the assessors
in West Tisbury
This week, Mr. Colaneri summed up his campaign, "I think I have shown by my past accomplishments that I can continue to provide the same quality of leadership and expertise that I have provided in this job from the beginning."
He described the beginning this way. When he was first elected, in 1973, record-keeping was rudimentary. Each property had a three-by-five card with only two lines written on it: a value for the house and a value for the acreage the house was on. There were no descriptions of the houses, land, or outbuildings. There were not even assessors' maps.
"Once we went to the town and got the first maps," Mr. Colaneri remembers, "we decided we needed more information about the properties. Stan Richards and I went out for Saturday after Saturday after Saturday, and we measured every single house in town." He comments that it became clear early on that the office required the assistance of professionals. Eventually, they hired professional software consultants and a full-time professional assistant.
The role of the assessors themselves, who are unpaid volunteers, became limited to one of policy, procedure, and oversight. "Today we are the public's liaison to a complex and comprehensive system," Mr. Colaneri says. "It's a market-driven system, and so we have to constantly make sure that all the information is accurate, clear, and concise."
Comments on the
Mr. Colaneri describes his ability to grant an appeal: "The role of the assessors is a narrow-focus job. We don't have a whole lot of discretion. Discretion is there, but it's relatively narrow, especially when you're dealing with exemptions.... Those are all statutory: you meet the criteria, you get the exemption. Because it's a market-driven system, [the assessors] don't have a lot of latitude. If all the houses on your street are selling for $500,000, and you come in and say, 'My house isn't worth $500,000,' the capacity for me to make adjustments is limited. It's hard. People don't like us to say no."
- About the current criticisms, Mr. Colaneri comments, "The system we have put in place is a good system. It's an honest system, a fair system. It's unfair of a number of people to make accusations that are unfounded and in many cases just not fact. Accusations without proof... I find unacceptable. I welcome challenges on any issue, but people have got to be objective and they've got to be fair."
- As to the lack of communication with taxpayers, he says, "There's no question that there needs to be more community education. It's a complex, comprehensive system. It isn't easy to explain, and I'm not sure there's any way to make it easy, but we can provide the community with more information, more knowledge, more detail. I'm going to strive to improve public relations."
- Mr. Colaneri stressed, "Part of this process is electing people to represent you, to represent your interests. One of the things I can say about my years as an assessor is that I can honestly look anybody in the eye and tell them, 'I was there to represent your interests.' By my measure, I think I've done a pretty good job."
The Graham case and related controversy\
- "There has been talk about how expensive [the ATB process] has been. No matter who the elected assessors are, no matter who the assistant assessor is, no matter who the mass appraisal outfit is, there are always going to be people who are not going to be happy with the numbers that are placed on their property, and there are always going to be legal issues. We have always tried to settle any issues with any taxpayer, but there will always be people who want to go to court. In their hearts, they're convinced that they're right, and that's what the ATB is for. That's their right, to have an independent unbiased judge determine the value of their property. We respect that and we welcome it. Usually, it's not a big deal and not very expensive for the town."
- "There's no question that the funds for the Graham case should have been appropriated in advance. Would I do things differently than we did then? Certainly. We've learned from it. From now on, these expenses will be handled differently. But just for the record: we, the board of assessors, went to the selectmen, we kept them apprized, we went into executive session on a number of occasions, brought them up to date on everything. We followed what was past practice, what had been done for years and years and years."
- "Ellen Hutchinson has given the town of West Tisbury good quality service at minimal expense over the years - minimal until this past year. If the leadership of the town wants to sit down with the boards and say, 'Maybe if we got a big law firm, they could handle all this stuff for x amount of dollars.' Maybe the town has gotten to the point in its history that it needs a 'corporate counsel.' [It would be a huge expense, but] it might be money well spent, I don't know. Maybe that discussion needs to take place, and I'm willing to participate in it, but it's got to be for all boards....
"The town also has to realize that when somebody files a lawsuit against it, you have an obligation on the part of all the citizens to answer it. If you don't, I think it's irresponsible. They have to be answered.