More than 100 attend city council meeting to support call for change to Ogdensburg's assessment process
Corrected at 2:12 p.m. an earlier version of this story incorrectly said Skelly's apartment is located on Washington Street. In fact it is located in the former Washington Elementary School. North Country This Week regrets this error.
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
OGDENSBURG – More than a hundred residents attended the City Council meeting Monday following a call from a local businessman whose assessment on an apartment building is set to increase nearly tenfold.
Jeffrey M. Skelly has been calling on citizens to express their dissatisfaction with the city’s assessment method for several weeks via a letter to local newspapers, social media and a marquee sign at the former Ogdensburg movie theater, which he owns.Skelly opened up public comment at the meeting warning the city that punishing people for improving their property would lead to bigger problems for the city.
Skelly pointed out that the assessment on his apartment building in the former Washington School is scheduled to increase from $80,000 to $785,000 in a single year.
“This is a shocking increase under any circumstances,” he said. "But the truth is I’m not here to talk in detail about my own property. I’m here instead to warn of what will ultimately occur if something isn’t done to ease the tax burden on the dwindling number of homes and business owners in the community.”
Skelly said that when “a government can no longer raise the levy it needs to care for its citizens because those very citizens no longer have the ability to pay, there is a major problem brewing.”
Skelly said people once took pride in living in Ogdensburg, but said that has become less common.
“When a homeowner can’t improve his or her own property because of financial concerns, it leads to blight, it drives down neighboring real estate prices. And it also weighs heavily on a community’s psychology. Who wants to live in a rundown city?”
Skelly said the council has an obligation to find “fresh and creative ways to solve the problem.
“I challenge this council and other city officials to be proactive, to become the doers, not those who don’t,” he said.
“Lowering the tax burden on property owners, new homeowners and those who make repairs is a much wiser approach than taxing them out of existence and forcing their properties into desrepair. Offering unique, locally tailored tax breaks to local residents who invest is a wiser approach as well,” he said.
Skelly said it’s time for councilors to lead by example or “step aside and let someone else in the community try to deal with this insane cycle of a tax demand that has grown beyond our citizens’ ability to pay.”
Skelly’s comments were met with a massive applause.
Several other residents also spoke on the assessment issue.
Among them was Cheryl Ladouceur, who told council that 11 homes that were recently reassessed on the river near Proctor Avenue are for sale.
Others who spoke brought up both the need for economic development and criticized the city’s system of punishing people for property improvements.
City council did not discuss assessments at the meeting.