Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Care and Keeping of Entrepreneurialism

Small and home-based businesses were on the agenda at Wednesday night's Common Council Legal Committee meeting. Committee chair John Friedman (Third Ward) introduced the topic by reminding the committee that Hudson, with a self-employment rate of 9.96 percent, is the greatest center of entrepreneurship in the entire state. He wanted the committee to look for ways to protect home-based and small businesses and suggested strengthening the language in the city code and introducing a "more expansive definition of customary home occupations."

Inevitably the discussion came around to the situation that inspired it in the first place: GAR's blanket reclassification of B&Bs as commercial instead of residential properties. City attorney Cheryl Roberts reported, based on her conversations with ORPTS (Office of Real Property Tax Services), that the reclassification has "not much significance at all." Since Hudson is a "non-homestead community," the tax rate for commercial property is no different from the tax rate for residential property. The only difference, it seems, is how the value of a property is determined. The recent sale of comparable properties is the basis for assessing residential properties, whereas the income produced in a building is factored in for commercial properties. Roberts stressed that ORPTS classifications have nothing to do with zoning classifications, so being reclassified commercial for assessment purposes does not mean a B&B cannot operate in a section of the city zoned residential. 

"So far as I can tell," said Roberts, speaking of GAR Associates' and city assessor Garth Slocum's reclassification of the B&Bs, "they did what they were supposed to do," expressing the opinion that the B&Bs had been improperly classified in the past. According to Roberts, it would be unethical for GAR to reclassify the B&Bs now, since only factual errors can be corrected after grievance day. Friedman argued that the B&B owners had not been given "effective notice" of the reclassification and did not know they needed to go to the assessor to protest the reclassification until it was too late to do so. 

Council President Don Moore expressed his "general sense of outrage" about the situation. He talked about the B&Bs as businesses that had been operating on a "relatively settled set of assumptions," then stated that he was personally invested in wanting "this assessment to be perceived to be as fair as possible," and concluded, with frustration, "and to have this monkey wrench thrown into this." He shared his opinion that "we should get rid of the assessor." 

Linda Mussmann, speaking from the audience, wanted to know how many people were impacted by the reclassification. Friedman indicated it was six, to which Mussmann responded, "So, six people are in a bad mood. Are you asking for someone's head over six people?" Friedman responded that it was not just six people, but it was six businesses that are "fundamentally important to Hudson." He cited the importance of the lodging provided by the B&Bs to the success of the restaurants, shops, and cultural venues in Hudson, suggesting that people who stayed in the B&Bs probably also found their way to TSL, Mussmann's not-for-profit theater. 

Friedman concluded that a B&B is a "special animal" that deserves special treatment and special protection. Although committee member Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward) disagreed, Friedman went on to say, "We're not making up the definition of B&B. We have to think about how we encourage them without putting them at a great advantage or disadvantage." 


  1. First let me say that grievance day is NOT over it has been extended two weeks.
    My appointment to grieve isn't until June 1st and I am surprised to find that our city attorney doesn't know that.
    Cheryl Roberts is also wrong when she said the reclassification has "not much significance at all" when it is not true.
    A commercial code on my property description will mean a higher mortgage rate and higher utility rates and I believe a higher assessment.
    How does this translate to "not much significance" A commercial code will also mean the property will have less market value
    because anyone buying it would also have to get a higher commercial mortgage. We are not getting rich here. This is not just a business
    it is my home. As one of Hudson's most successful B&Bs the profit we make barely covers our property taxes. If I grieve as a commercial property
    the the city will owe me money.
    Linda Mussmann should apologise for her out of line comment. Everyone knows less lodging affects business all over town and not just the B&B owners.

  2. I also want to add that even though assessment codes have nothing to do with zoning code, a commercial assessment code in a residentially zoned area limits us to 5 rental rooms. We can only charge as much as the market will tolerate and this increase in the cost of doing business tips the scale and not in our favor.

  3. Mussman seems to have a problem with other business establishments in Hudson. When Club Helsinki sought help from the City and County with parking a few years ago, she showed up at City Hall and whined because she felt that TSL received no co-operation with similar issues. She apparently doesn't grasp the simple concept that promoting good business here helps us all.

  4. Yet another nail in Hudsons coffin of prosperity potential driven by The Assessor / Cheryl Roberts / Linda Mussman.

    Stop the hate Linda - as you so willing accuse everyone outside your narrow vision of blinders.

  5. 1) How can the Council President, Don Moore, posture as if he's outraged by this? He was a key point of contact for “negotiating” with GAR, and their contract stipulated that the Council would get monthly updates on their work.

    Did Moore never get the reports? Or were the reports deficient? Or was the Council President asleep at the wheel? We can’t know, because long past the legal deadline for responding to my FOIL about the matter, Moore still has yet to provide any documents on the topic. So much for open government...

    2) Linda Mussmann has often complained to City agencies about issues which she believed would impact her nonprofit business, so this is just the latest example of the TSL’s monumental hypocrisy. The examples are so numerous it’s hard to know where to start, but the parking one mentioned above is Exhibit A.

    3) Virtually all the B&Bs elsewhere in the County are classified as residential, not commercial, so it is preposterous for Cheryl Roberts—architect of our Waterfront debacle, and now the preferred Assembly candidate of the HCDC/CCDC’s Victor Mendolia—to claim that GAR is just following ordinary procedure. Their sudden decision is a huge anomaly, out of line with common assessment practice in the area.

    Since Hudson’s B&Bs all pay taxes into the Hudson City School District, this means that B&Bs are being classified inconsistently and arbitrarily within the same taxing jurisdiction. And as others have pointed out, there are indeed financial consequences from the change.

  6. I'm not surprised to learn that Ms. Roberts made a special trip to ORPTS to be able to explain the obvious to the council: that the question of assessments is not the same as the matter of taxes. (To be fair, I was not there to hear the explanation first-hand, but re-presenting the obvious is her customary way of filling time.)

    Roberts' friend Mussman, the great populist, is by nature careless with competing interests. Note the demagogue's penchant for majority rule above principle whereby the number of people effected settles the issue for her. She attracts others who think the same way, and who understand the value of bullying.

    I'd be delighted if we could really trust President Moore at his word for the assessment "to be as fair as possible."

    Recall that it was Mr. Moore who once assured a member of the public that the LWRP process "will be done transparently."* Even at the time few believed his sympathetic declarations, and by the end of the story it was evident that Mr. Moore firmly managed the helm in order to advance the interests of Ms. Roberts and Ms. Mussman. The public merely supplied plausible deniability for the required "participation," after which everyone was supposed to forget how they were used and by whom.

    What are these same individuals up to now? Be very doubtful.

    (*Audio of the 12 July 2010 CC meeting is available at WGXC, at 1:43:26.)