Board selects chief assessor


WESTFIELD – The Board of Assessors is slated to meet this afternoon at 5 p.m. with the city’s new chief Assessor to discuss staffing within the Assessor’s Department.
The board voted on Friday to offer the position to Robin Whitney who has served in that department for nearly 20 years and has been the interim chief assessor since the retirement of James Pettingill in October. The position was offered to Whitney following interviews with four finalists for the post.
“All of the (final) candidates were interesting,” Chairwoman Grace E. Sullivan said yesterday. “It was a difficult decision, but I think we made the right choice.”
“It was a difficult process because the timing was not right” Sullivan said relative to Pettingill’s retirement which occurred just as the City Council began the process of setting the 2013 fiscal year tax rate. “Robin stepped up to the plate working with the (City) Council to set the tax rate.”
Whitney and Collector Michael McMahon provided the technical support and data needed by the City Council members to adopt a residential shift which is a key part of the tax-setting formula.
The Board of Assessors had two criterions for the appointment, property evaluation experience in a city the size of Westfield, and longevity in the post going forward. A third consideration is experience in commercial, industrial and personal property evaluation.
“Robin has the ability to step in and handle the job in the city,” Sullivan said. “None of the candidates had broad knowledge in the commercial and industrial assessment field.”
“Westfield is unique because of the mix of residential, commercial, industrial and personal property classes. Most of the other candidates are from smaller communities with mainly residential assessment experience because there really is no need for the commercial and industrial background,” Sullivan said.
The current distribution of the total property evaluation in the city is about 83 percent residential and 17 percent commercial, industrial and personal property and will change to about 80-20 percent as several significant industrial and commercial -projects are added to the tax base.
The board plans to discuss back-filling Whitney position in the department this afternoon.
“I think Robin’s first priority will be to hire someone to take her position, maybe someone with more commercial experience and Robin will get more involved in that area as well,” Sullivan said.
Board member Diane M. Hildreth and Sullivan, who were both appointed to the Board of Assessors during the tenure of Mayor George A. Varelas, have appointed four Chief Assessors during their time on the board and both said that the longevity of the next Chief Assessor was a key issue in this appointment.
Assistant Personnel Director Jeff Krok said the city is currently negotiating a contract with Whitney to address salary and compensation.
“The process is simpler when you hire someone from outside, but in this case we have a person who has worked for the city for nearly 20 years, so it’s a little more complex process,” Krok said.

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