Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Valerie Hail Versus the Fairview Fire District

There are no winners here, folks, in the battle between Hyde Park Town Councilwoman Valerie Hail and the Commissioners of the Fairview Fire District. Their dispute is about who should take credit for the dramatic (over 14 percent) drop in the fire tax rate in 2009 in the Hyde Park portion of the Fairview Fire District. Councilwoman Hail claims on her re-election web page that her primary accomplishment is that she “reduced 2009 Fairview Fire District taxes by 14.3%”. The Fairview Fire Commissioners, through their attorney, sent her a vehement — and I mean really vehement — open letter insisting that she had no hand in doing that.

The Commissioners are certainly right about Councilwoman Hail's role. Councilwoman Hail's claim is false, false, and false. There's no other way to say it, except maybe “baseless”. Her blatant fabrication deserves full denunciation.

That said, the irony for the Commissioners is that in calling attention to Councilwoman Hail's deceit, they must also confront their own embarrassing role in the 14 percent drop in fire tax rate. The lawyer's letter handles this artfully, by saying, “It was not you who reduced taxes. It was not you who reapportioned the valuations leading to the reduction in fire taxes in the Fairview Fire District portion of Hyde Park.”

More Blame than Credit

This carefully-worded statement is factually correct, but might lead many readers to the mistaken conclusion that whoever “reapportioned the valuations leading to the reduction in fire taxes” must be the person to be commended for the 14 percent drop in fire tax rate. The person who “reapportioned the valuations” for at least the last decade is James Passikoff, CPA, Treasurer of the Fairview Fire District. The lawyer's letter was careful not to state that Passikoff should be credited with the 14 percent drop in Hyde Park's tax rate, and for good reason: Not only is this conclusion wrong, it's backwards! Passikoff is to blame for overcharging Hyde Park taxpayers 15 percent in 2008, and lesser percentages in previous years, probably in violation of New York State's real property tax law. For 2009, Passikoff did not overcharge Hyde Park taxpayers, resulting in a 14 percent drop in Hyde Park's fire tax rate. The 2009 Hyde Park fire tax did not in any way compensate for Passikoff's previous mistakes; it merely meant that Passikoff did not make additional mistakes for the 2009 tax apportionment calculation. In other words, the 14 percent drop in Hyde Park's fire tax rate is due to the fact that fire tax overcharges stopped for Hyde Park in 2009.

Fire Commissioners' Role in Apportionment Mistakes

Under New York State law, the Fairview Fire Commissioners are ultimately responsible for everything that goes on in the Fairview Fire District. As is typical in fire districts, the Fairview Fire Commissioners delegate the responsibility for all financial and tax matters to the Treasurer of the Fire District. The Commissioners are responsible for electing or re-electing a Treasurer of the Fairview Fire District at the beginning of each year, and for setting his compensation during the fall budget process. When the Fairview Fire Commissioners learned of James Passikoff's apportionment mistakes in September 2008, they unanimously agreed not to re-elect him as Treasurer for 2009. Just kidding! What they actually did was to award him an 8.7 percent raise in the 2009 proposed budget. It was only after objections by taxpayer Beverly Allyn during the public hearing that Passikoff's raise was lowered to a smaller percentage in the final 2009 budget. (Full disclosure: Beverly Allyn is my wife.) The Commissioners unanimously voted to re-elect James Passikoff as Treasurer for 2009.

My Role in Uncovering This Mess

My own role in uncovering this mess, and in the 14 percent drop in Hyde Park's fire tax, has been publicly known for more than a year, and is documented in the Unfair Apportionment section of my companion website. Here's a brief summary: On July 29, 2008, after months of my own investigation, Beverly Allyn and I met with James Passikoff and Fairview Fire Chief Tory Gallante, in order for Passikoff to explain Fairview's 2008 apportionment calculation. Beverly and I documented a large number of separate mistakes of reasoning in Passikoff's procedure. On August 4, 2008, Beverly and I met with John Anspach, Chairman of the Board of Fairview Fire Commissioners to discuss our findings. Commissioner Anspach assured us at that meeting that the apportionment mistakes would no longer occur. I published my initial report, Unfairness in Fairview -- Inequitable Apportionment of the Fire Tax Levy, on September 11, 2008, (Document #5). A subsequent report predicted a 14.7 percent decrease in Hyde Park's 2009 fire tax rate.

Although my investigations revealed that responsibility for fair apportionment lies with the Fairview Fire District Board of Commissioners and its Treasurer, and that the inequitable apportionment was probably in violation of New York State's real property law, Commissioner Anspach made repeated public statements denying these findings, eventually insisting that his denials were based on advice from Fairview Fire District attorney Bill Spampinato. Commissioner Anspach's denials ended only after I documented my own conversation with Spampinato on October 23.

Why This Rant Now?

Valerie Hail's blatant falsehood in claiming credit for a 14 percent drop in Hyde Park's taxes gave the Fairview Fire Commissioners an opportunity to set the record straight, or at least to not further distort the record. Unfortunately, the commissioners chose a statement that's at best ambiguous:
“It was not you who reduced taxes. It was not you who reapportioned the valuations leading to the reduction in fire taxes in the Fairview Fire District portion of Hyde Park.”
This statement points not to a creditworthy party, as one would reasonably suppose, but to the blameworthy party, James Passikoff, Treasurer of the Fairview Fire District, whom the Commissioners have continued to support and even to reward. In my view, it is long past due for the Fairview Fire Commissioners to take responsibility for mistakes made on their watch, and to correct them — not to cover them up.


  1. No mention of how the secretary saved a lot of money!

  2. Dear Anonymous 1 - Anonymous 2 here - what has "the secretary saving a lot of money" have to do with an incompetent treasurer?

  3. Hey Anon. #2 the accountant is the numbers professional. why did the sec. have to do a cpas' job? why did a taxpayer have to find excess $?

  4. Anonymous 2 says - in 2008 the Board of Fire Commissioners was convinced that the Treasurer could do no wrong because he has CPA after his name; they just approved what the Treasurer recommended. In fact several of the commissioners probably still think the same way; But there are many of us who are older and smarter now. No Oversight within FFD that's why the taxpayers had to do it. Incompetence all the way around existed in 2008 at FFD and still does till the entire board changes. Slow process only one of the five commissioners is elected per year to a 5 year term. ANY Gov't entity of any sort needs oversight by the public. Taxpayers just weren't watching closely enough till Fairness for Fairview came along. Just wait till the rest of the feces hits the fan; Arlington FD will soon wise up; they have the same treasurer.

  5. They're all incompetent, the Town of Hyde Park Councilwoman who lays claim to being the sole releif of taxes by 14.3%, when she had absolutely nothing to do with the savings. Then there is the District Treasurer who can't keep his numbers straight and then lest not forget the District Secretary who claims she single handedly has saved Thousands of dollars in hospitalization costs, when in fact she nothing of the sort, the money saved was done so by the Career Staff members who switched out of the more expensive plans or to single off family plans, all which were done to help save the district money by them in the last contract negotiations, that is the savings that she is claiming to take credit for comes from...

    Thanks for your concerns, but listen to the facts and not the BS being thrown around by false reporting individuals and politicians. Come to the Board meetings and ask for the answer not listen to the BS in this or any other blogs.


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