By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — After 27 years at City Hall, Mario Arevalo will spend his last day as Oneonta’s assessor today.
Arevalo has been the quintessential long-time public servant, Mayor Dick Miller said Thursday.
“He’s done an extraordinary job,” Miller said. “We will miss him greatly.”
Miller described Arevalo’s contributions in a proclamation presented during assessor’s last Common Council meeting Tuesday night. Many citizens have commented on Arevalo’s “compassion and willingness to help, assuring them that they were being treated fairly,” Miller said.
Former mayors David W. Brenner and Kim Muller were present at Tuesday’s meeting in Arevalo’s honor.
Arevalo, 63, joined the city as assessor in 1986 after graduating from the State University College at Oneonta. Arevalo’s pay for 2013 was listed at about $58,365, according to the SeeThroughNY website, sponsored by the Empire Center, a nonprofit think tank based in Albany.
On Thursday, at a desk in his basement office in City Hall, Arevalo said his two biggest accomplishments were the city’s participation as a pilot community as the state developed its Real Property System software in 1987 and the revaluation in the city in 2000, plus updates in each of the next five years.
Assessors have had to keep up with changes in technology, legislation and taxpayers, who have become more-educated consumers as they have followed the economy, Arevalo said.
Being an assessor requires being skilled with numbers, Arevalo said, and a willingness to spend time with taxpayers explaining about property values.
Arevalo said he also has had to explain that he has “nothing to do” with taxes, then refer taxpayers to the mayor’s office in that regard. Arevalo said he had to be patient when taxpayers approached him after-hours while at the movies or at a restaurant with questions about assessments.
However, Arevalo said, he took pride in his accessibility at City Hall. Instead of a wall with a window to transact business, the assessor said, he maintained an “open door” policy and invited taxpayers into his office to sit and discuss issues. He also answered telephone calls to the assessor’s office.
“I always, always picked up the phone,” he said.
In 2001, Arevalo received the Institute of Assessing Officers Highest Achievement Designation.
Arevalo, an American citizen originally from Bolivia, said speaks more than five languages including Spanish, his native language, Portuguese, French and Russian. In retirement, he said, he would like to use those language skills in writing, translation and interpretation.
The city has awarded a multi-year contract for assessment services instead of hiring an assessor to succeed Arevalo.
The city is in a transition period, Arevalo said, and the contractual arrangement “will suit the city perfectly” as municipal officials decide conducting another revaluation.
The city’s equalization rate is 73 percent, Arevalo said.
As assessor, Arevalo said, he had “a soft spot” for senior citizens and knew which property owners to call to remind them to file their forms for the state’s STAR property-tax exemption program.
The state is updating the STAR system this year and requiring all homeowners to re-register to participate in the program.
But after today, Arevalo won’t be reminding taxpayers from the assessor’s office.
“I’m going to miss it terribly,” he said Thursday. “It’s bittersweet.”