Quick Questions with Trisha Laszewski
Assessor now works for 3 western Orleans towns
RIDGEWAY – Patricia Laszewski grew up in Middleport and moved to Medina in 1990 with her husband Frank. They have four grown daughters.
She was hired as a full-time assessor clerk for Ridgeway in April 2001, and became assessor in July 2002 when Kate Lake retired.
Her job expanded this year when she became assessor for Shelby and Yates, in addition to Ridgeway. She will assess values for 7,300 parcels of property in the three towns.
She admits the job doesn’t always make her popular with the public. She said she strives to be fair and treat everyone with respect.
The following interview was conducted at Laszewski’s office at the Ridgeway Town Hall.
Question: How did you get into assessing?
Answer: I was subbing at the school in clerical and as an aide. I knew there was a position opening up in the middle school for a clerk in the office. I decided to take the Civil Service test for clerk and this position (in Ridgeway assessor’s office) opened up before they hired for that position. I interviewed and I accepted the job not knowing anything about assessments.
I had no intention of applying for this job, it just came about.
Q: Was it overwhelming initially?
A: It was very overwhelming. When I was hired there was such a short amount of time when I was with the current assessor. I don’t think it was enough time to understand how everything worked. I never had a job where I dealt so much with the public so it’s definitely been a growing experience. I think it changes you a little bit, including your personality. You learn to look at things a lot differently. You are offended by very little after a while.
Q: I think it would be a tough job. I don’t think people necessarily like the assessor. It can be tough as a property owner because you want a nice property but you don’t want your assessment to go up and have to pay more in taxes.
A: Exactly. When people come in and they’re frustrated, you can not take it personally. Bottom line is they feel what you have done is touching their wallet and that’s sensitive to everyone.
Q: So how to you keep the peace here?
A: I find that most people who come in I approach it as, ‘I know you are frustrated.’ We sit down, and I let them talk. I explain the process and a lot of times you agree to disagree.
Q: Don’t you determine values through comparables?
A: It’s basically what homes are selling for, business and commercial properties. What they’re selling for on the market. We take that information and analyze it and compare it the best we can. There is no black and white. It’s not that every ranch is assessed so-many dollars for every square foot. It depends on what the market is doing. There is a lot of gray area.
Q: Where is the market strong in Orleans County?
A: Right now I’m seeing that the homes outside the village (of Medina) are selling above assessed value. Homes inside the village, if they are move-in ready homes, they are also selling above assessed value. The houses that are your run-of-the-mill houses can sit on the market for a year or year and a half.
Q: When you think about the three towns you are now working in, they really aren’t the same with lakefront, the wildlife refuge and the village.
A: I can consider Shelby and Ridgeway, obviously, more similar than Yates because of the lakefront. That is definitely going to be all new to me. With Shelby, I’m pretty comfortable with all the agricultural properties. It’s just learning different faces and where everything is.
Q: Would you use the same strategy with comparables for all three towns?
A: Yes. That’s the same. It’s just knowing your properties and analyzing the data to the best of your ability because it’s not black and white.
Q: Do you look at recent sales?
A: When assessors use comparables we use comparables normally over the last three years. The last time I did an update was in 2013. The comparables would have gone back to 2010. Until I do a new update, anything I have to reassess, I have to use the same comparables that I used from back in 2013. That’s what meets the state guidelines of everyone being assessed equally. Your comparing this property to the properties that I used when I reassessed the entire town.
Sometimes that’s hard for people to understand because they’ll say, ‘Just six months ago this house sold,’ but I can’t use that as a comparable. That being said, do I take that into consideration? Yes.
Q: Is there a town-wide reassessment this year?
Q: Is it every four years?
A: It’s every three years but because of the move we just made there is no possible way I could do an update. I’m not really sure when there will be a new update.
Q: Your not obligated to do it every three years?
A: You’re encouraged. I would guess one of the towns will be done in 2018. Right now we’re seeing how things go. I would guess Shelby and Ridgeway we would keep them together because we share the village. That just makes sense.
Q: Is there concern about the assessments in the village, how they are declining?
A: They are definitely declining.
Q: I wonder how low can they go?
A: I know with the 2004 or 2007 reassessment, they took a huge leap, like $20,000 to $30,000. We as assessors when we got together said there would never be another $40,000 house again. Those days are gone. Well, they are not.
They only thing you can hope is that these houses people are picking up they are going to rehab them and maybe property values will increase.
There are so many different pieces of the pie. When people come in and they are frustrated with their tax bill it’s not just the assessment that affects that. That’s one piece of the pie. The rest of it, take a look at the municipalities. Take a look at the town, the county, the school and the village. How are they budgeting their money?
It’s hard to educate the residents on that because they say you’ve raised my taxes and now you need to fix it.
Q: Why have you stayed in this job?
A: It’s worked for me. It’s a great job as far as being a family-friendly job. I’m just a few blocks from home so that’s awesome. I was always able to participate in my daughters’ things at school. If somebody was sick, I could run over and get them and take them home. There were a lot of conveniences.
After a while I just settled in and this is what I do. I’ve never in the 15 years gone out and tried to hunt for something different. I’ve kind of embraced it.
Q: I suppose you would get good at it after a while.
A: I’d hope so. I’m much more comfortable.
Q: Has the technology helped, such as the Pictometry?
A: Absolutely. The Pictometry is amazing. It is a great tool to be able to measure properties. Not everyone is home during the day. Not everyone wants you on their property. You still need to get out and drive around or else you lose touch.
Q: If there is a building permit, is that something you’re aware of?
Q: Maybe not everyone gets a permit when they work on their house or property.
A: Right, but Pictometry has helped us to find things.
Q: What does it take to be good at this job?
A: It takes patience, good people skills, open to learning as much as you can.
Q: If people think you’ve made a mistake, you have the Assessment Review Board?
A: Yes. We encourage people to come in and talk to me. We try to keep the lines of communication open. For the most part I’ve got positive feedback from that.
With the Assessment Review Board at that point that decision is out of my hand so they are able to discuss what they believe the value of their property is with five other people and they get to make the decision.
Q: In terms of hopefulness for the community with the STAMP project and its impact, do you think we will see more demand in the local housing market.
A: I hope so. It would be awesome. We have a great community.