Surprise’s job status comes into focus

COPAKE—Two weeks after the town’s Sole Assessor J. Craig Surprise was fired, he was rehired. Both actions were taken without public explanation.

At the Town Board’s December 14 meeting, members went into executive session to discuss personnel matters. When they emerged, Supervisor Jeff Nayer made a motion to terminate Mr. Surprise’s employment with the Town of Copake effective immediately. Everyone voted in favor except Councilperson Jeanne Mettler.

Fourteen days later at the town’s yearend meeting December 28 following another executive session, Ms. Mettler motioned to rescind the December 14 motion to terminate Mr. Surprise’s employment. Everyone voted in favor except Mr. Nayer.

None of the council members reached for comment would say anything about the matter. Mr. Surprise did not return a call for comment.

Mr. Surprise was hired by the town in 2011, primarily to perform a townwide revaluation in house at a cost savings. Many taxpayers complained about the resulting changes to their property assessments, as well as what they said was Mr. Surprise’s unresponsiveness when they had questions. They brought their concerns to the Town Board at its March 2016 meeting. The sole assessor is paid $28,000 a year.

Though the motion not to continue Mr. Surprise in the position was rescinded it does not appear that he has returned to work. There is no assessor’s name listed on the town’s website. When asked about it, a town official said he was not at liberty to talk about it now.

(NOTE: In a new development after this story was published, Mr. Surprise’s resignation, effective immediately, was accepted by the Town Board at its January 11 meeting. Lynn Hotaling of Ghent was appointed the new sole assessor January 15, 2018 through September 30, 2019. Mr. Surprise was appointed as the assessor consultant to assist Ms. Hotaling in “getting up to speed” until February 28, 2018.)

Also at the yearend meeting, in a possibly related assessment matter, the board voted to approve settling a tax certiorari proceeding–the legal process by which the courts review a real property assessment–at reduced assessments, and authorized the town’s attorney to execute the settlement agreement accordingly. The settlement titled, “Jonathan C. Urban v. Assessor of the Town of Copake,” reduced the original assessment on one parcel from $730,000 to $600,000 and on a second parcel from $1,285,100 to $1,050,100.

In another matter at the yearend meeting, Supervisor Nayer thanked Councilperson Terry Sullivan for her years of service to the town. She served on the Town Board for the past three years after she won election in 2014 to fill the remainder of the term of David Paciencia, who left earlier that year. She was not re-elected in November.

At the town’s organizational meeting January 3, the board voted to:

Accept county and state bids for materials and equipment for 2018 entered in to an agreement for the expenditure of highway funds in the amount of $204,000 for primary work and general repairs on 56.19 miles of town highways and $131,184.97 for permanent improvements of town highways

Approved Highway Department wages in all classifications at $21.05/hour. The Shop Foreman shall receive an additional $.25 per hour. In each year of the agreement the deputy highway superintendent shall receive an additional $.50/hour

Authorized the supervisor to invest town funds in day of deposit and day of withdrawal CD accounts

*Appointed Kenneth J. Dow, Esq. attorney for the town for 2018 and Whitbeck, Benedict and Smith LLP as town council for Cascino matters

Designated The Columbia Paper and the Register Star as official newspapers; set the regular town board meeting on the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. with exception of August which will be held the second Saturday of the month at 9 a.m.

Designated Key Bank, Kinderhook Bank and Bank of Greene County as official depositories; designated polling places, Copake Town Hall as District #1 and Copake Memorial Park Building District as #2

Appointed Sickler, Torchia, Allen and Churchill CPAs PC as town accountant; Supervisor Nayer appointed himself as budget officer; appointed Lee Hiem as code enforcement officer/building inspector, Lawrence O. Proper as registrar of vital statistics, Vana S. Hotaling as deputy registrar of vital statistics, Nicole Miller and Theresa Traver as part-time court clerks, Lynn Connelly as assessor’s clerk, William H. Gregory, Jr., as park superintendent, Wes Powell dog control officer, Columbia/Greene Humane Society animal shelter, Supervisor Nayer appointed Councilperson Kelly Miller-Simmons as deputy supervisor and Gloria Lyons as town historian

Other appointments, Theresa Traver as the town’s bookkeeper, Vana Hotaling and Veronica Fabio as deputy town clerks/tax collectors, Timothy Albright as deputy highway superintendent, Robin Bruce as person-in-charge of the William Cemetery, Robert Callahan as building custodian and booking agent, Veronica Fabio as zoning board secretary, Lisa

DeConti as planning board secretary, Sean Carbine as computer consultant, Theresa Traver as code enforcement/building inspector secretary, Bryan Van Tassel as summer program director, Hollie Van Tassel as assistant summer program director

Designated Sunset Rock Road as having limited seasonal use; set mileage reimbursement at the IRS rate for the use of private vehicles for town business; affixed the salary for the position of councilperson at $3,605/year paid monthly.

The next Town Board meeting was scheduled for tonight (January 11) beginning with public hearing on a law to extend an exemption from real property taxes to veterans of the Cold War at 6:50 p.m. followed by regular meeting, Town Hall, 230 Mountain View Road, 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email

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