... that an attorney for the City of Hudson has filed a response to the HPOC tax assessment lawsuit which essentially throws in the towel.
Meanwhile, rumor is that the School District has responded not to the substance of the suit, but merely complaining that the injunction sought would cause great complications and hardship (hard to imagine, since the suit simply asks for the 2009 assessments to remain in place, with the 2010 Hudson "full reval" voided). No word on whether the final party served with papers on Monday, namely the County, has responded. Tomorrow (Friday) is the deadline for replies.
It should be emphasized that the above are only rumors at this point, not having seen any actual new filings firsthand.
After barely a year of operation under new ownership, and less than six months after being nominated for a Chamber “Crystal Apple” award, Blue Stores is closed again. Realty signs sprout from uncut grass on the Route 9 and Route 31 sides of the building, though the outdoor furniture is still in place, and flags still flutter as the traffic whips by at well over the 40 mph speed limit.
To be honest, something felt “off” about the new Blue Stores from the get-go.
The previous management kept things simple and no-nonsense. Probably a minor makeover was overdue. But the new owners clearly overspent on renovating the once down-home but perfectly functional interior. The glossily-painted main dining room seemed like something out of an overpriced Chinatown tourist trap, and contrasted sharply with the Ye Olde Taverne atmosphere of the bar area. Looking around, one tended to wonder if someone had a bunch of cash they needed to park somewhere in a hurry.
Still, the place was often packed on weeknights (a rarity around here), rollicking with live acts and karaoke singers. It seemed to be a new favorite venue for various civic organizations to host their banquets and meetings, and also a handy place for people in the south-central part of the county to catch a playoff game on TV, or just catch up with neighbors at the bar.
Unfortunately, the new Blue Stores was plagued by generic food, straight off some bland food service menu, made even less appealing by frequently amateur service.
It was clear to anyone who has ever bussed a table, scoured out a soup pot, or taken an order (this writer included) that most of the staff had little if any restaurant or bar experience—and the management was failing to train or supervise them. A lot of socializing was going on instead of attending to customers with their hands in the air, trying to order another round. Plus when a bartender doesn’t know what goes into a bourbon and soda or a waitress seems so high that she has to come back three times to clarify what you ordered, that’s eventually going to drive your bottom line into the red.
Ultimately that’s not the fault of some 17-year-old who’s landed his or her first real job; it’s the fault of management. In so many service businesses today, ownership forgets to invest in their staff, teaching them the ropes of the business so that they can excel and move up. (Bar/restaurant work is all about tips, so without that leg up few newbies will make a decent living.) Despite the strong support of the community, from the looks of things this venture was never likely to serve enough drinks or chicken parms fast enough to make back all the dough its backers poured into it.
Let’s hope this historic site gets snapped up by someone with a little more restaurant background, and maybe some hotel experience as well—something like a more affordable version of the Madalin Hotel in Tivoli. Given the history and the prime location, it ought to be a goldmine for the right person.
As promised, here are some key details of the Hudson Property Owners Coalition (HPOC) lawsuit which was authorized to move forward last Friday, and served upon the relevant parties on Monday:
STEALTH REVAL: First off, the suit argues that City Assessor Garth Slocum conducted a full revaluation of Hudson properties without going through the necessary steps to do so. According to an affidavit and analysis from Certified Public Accountant and Hudson taxpayer Steven Hickey, Slocum changed the values of nearly 90% of local parcels—66% increases, 23% decreases, with only 10-11% left unchanged.
FOOT, MEET MOUTH: In support of the above, the suit cites a widely-circulated email from Board of Assessment Review (BAR) chair Tom Swope, which casually referred to Slocum’s work as “a full reval.” HPOC attorney Robert Beebe finds that Slocum effectively produced a full reval under Real Property Tax Law, but by failing to file necessary notices to the State, County, and individual property owners, the public was denied its full ability and rights to challenge such an action.
DESK JOCKEYING: Beebe also charges that while a full reval requires extensive field work, Slocum appears to have relied entirely on abstract computer calculations made solely from the comfort of his City Hall desk.
LAND, HO: The suit further notes that Slocum made “dramatic changes” to the land portions of many assessments (as opposed to the value of buildings on those parcels), despite the lack of any “land sales history or other empirical data to justify these increases,” calling them “entirely arbitrary.”
ARM-TWISTING: An affidavit from 1st Ward resident and longtime local realtor Ruth Moser notes that when grieving the assessments to her three properties, Slocum oddly—and to her mind, improperly—required her to sign a paper promising that she would consolidate two of her parcels into one, as a condition for granting a portion of her grievance. Moser writes that she was confused and intimidated by Slocum’s demand, but has since decided to refuse to go forward with it.
CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: Another affidavit from attorney and local homeowner Dan Renehan includes cameraphone photographs of handwritten changes to the Tentative tax roll. These were allegedly made improperly by Slocum after the roll’s issuance, in an effort to prevent others from using certain properties as “comparables” during the grievance process. According to Beebe’s Notice of Petition, these changes were both arbitrary and not properly noticed to the parties affected.
OH, BEHAVE: The HPOC suit also calls into question Slocum’s “conduct in dealing with taxpayers” as “reflective of the arbitrary and capricious manner in which the entire roll was developed.” Further affidavits from residents and taxpayers such as Windle Davis, Elsa Leviseur, Peter Meyer and others provide vivid accounts of the high-handed and dismissive manner in which they recall being treated by the Assessor as they sought to understand and grieve their assessments. For example, Leviseur evidently tried to explain to Slocum that her new assessment was inaccurate because she (a) bought at an artificial “high” in the market in 2005, and (b) has since discovered a host of structural issues with her property. Then, according to her affidavit, Slocum implied that her house would be condemned if she insisted on pressing this line of argument. Other HPOC affidavits describe similar taxpayer experiences of being hectored, belittled and denied information by the Assessor.
NO TIME TO WAIT: Acting Supreme Court Justice Paul Czajka has given City, County and School officials until Friday to respond—time being of the essence, since the Hudson City School District (HCSD) bills normally would go out any day now.
HPOC’s suit takes what may be an entirely new approach to assessment issues. Rather than filing a lengthy Article 78 action to address discrepancies and inequities on more of a case-by-case basis, Beebe is seeking an immediate injunction barring the City, County and School District from using the 2010 roll. This would toss out Slocum’s full reval and reinstate the entire 2009 assessments for the basis of computing the coming year’s Hudson taxes.
The idea is that if the HCSD bills go out now, the taxpayers would effectively have no recourse to reverse the harm done from unfair assessments, and therefore a request for an injunction has been deemed urgently necessary.
This site is reliably told that the Hudson Assessor, acting City Clerk, Deputy County Clerk and Hudson City School District Clerk were each served this morning with an Order to Show Cause signed last Friday by Columbia County Court Judge Paul Czajka, following a conference with the attorney for the Hudson Property Owners Coalition (HPOC). More details to follow.
About 5,000 National Grid customers in parts of Claverack, Hudson, Greenport, Stockport, Germantown and Livingston are inexplicably without power this morning (though it’s on at my office in the 600 block of Warren. Check the “storm center” outage map by clicking here. Their current estimated restoration time is around 11:45.
Ben Wilson acquired a small trove of Hudson ephemera, mainly consisting of old invoices and other sales records for local businesses—and with the help of designer Andrew Nelson is turning them into placemats. They will be available soon through his shop in the 500 block of Warren Street (shared with Kathy Pakay); the price per mat is also pending.