Golisano on Grievance Day: "What is going on is sick"

SOUTH BRISTOL — Billionaire businessman Tom Golisano — who last year launched a website to help homeowners challenge unfair assessments — on Tuesday confronted the town Board of Assessment Review over his lake property in South Bristol.

In what became a fiesty exchange between Golisano and the board led by Chairman Henry Savage, Golisano challenged the board to take action — action he said he has not gotten from anyone at the town, county, state or federal level over a goose problem at his property on Stemple Hill.

Golisano withheld $145,000 in property taxes, school taxes and penalties on the home over the goose plight.

“I get no help from the community, zero help,” said Golisano, who called the press to witness his presentation before the Board of Assessment Review on Grievance Day, a giant goose statue perched next to him.

The average goose drops 2.1 pounds of poop a day, said Golisano, adding some days he has as many as 200 geese. It’s a health hazard and means he can’t use his property despite owing $145,000 in taxes, he said. His own attempts to use fishing line barriers, “disgusting sprays,” decoys and other methods failed, said the philanthropist and Paychex Inc. founder and chairman.

Even the town assessor who looked at his property last year said, “this property is a mess,” said Golisano. "To pay $140,000 in real estate taxes, I should be able to take that off my tax bill,” he said.

If the problem was people picnicing on his lawn he could shoo them off, Golisano noted: “You can shoo away picnickers, but there is no shooing away the geese,” said Golisano, whose permanent residence is in Florida. He mentioned his success in challenging assessments at his home in Mendon (reassessed from $6 million to $1.9 million with taxes reduced from $200,000 to $60,000) and at his daughter’s home in Victor (reassessed from $4.2 million to $1.3 million with annual taxes reduced from $100,000 to about $40,000.)

Golisano’s argument is twofold: He seeks tax relief on the South Bristol property because the geese lower the property value and will cost him money to battle himself — since he gets no help from any entity. He said his only recourse now is to hire someone to stay at the property 24/7. But that would cost him $75,000 a year, he estimates — a cost he thinks should come off his tax bill.

He also takes issue with property taxes and assessments in New York state. “What is going on? ... The system needs to change,” he said. He gave an example: A house in the Finger Lakes region with an asking price of $599,000 has taxes totaling $5,195.

Tax My Property Fairly is a resource to help taxpayers across Upstate New York, from Buffalo to Albany, fight for fair property taxes. In just four months, the effort has created an active forum on social media with 5,500-plus followers on Facebook, a website with resources and tips for taxpayers, and answers and guidance provided to hundreds of taxpayers who have emailed or sent messages to Facebook with questions, according to Golisano.

“It’s a flawed system,” said Golisano. “There’s a need to change the system.”

Responding to his grievances, Savage told Golisano: “It is way out of our purview.”

Savage added, “We can sympathize with your situation but you are talking to the wrong people, Mr. Golisano.”

Golisano blamed the board for being part of the problem. “Nobody is changing anything about this — including this group,” he said.

“This is not the place for this, Mr. Golisano,” said Savage.

“This is exactly the place. What is going on is sick,” Golisano responded.

Savage then said, “Unfortunately it is our political system.”

“Oh, let’s blame them,” Golisano responded sarcastically.

Savage said several times that the board is bound by following state law. “We are bound by rules and regulations,” said Savage. 

“Did you ever break the rules in the interest of justice?” Golisano asked. Savage responded with a joke about something he did in high school.

Board member Janet Cowley said she can see others bothered by deer and other wildlife also calling for reduced assessment.

“I can’t say you can compare the problem of deer with geese,” Golisano shot back.

Cowley noted that “ticks from deer are a big problem,” and Savage mentioned there are other property owners like grape farmers plagued by turkeys, deer and such.

“You say you represent the public,” said Golisano addressing the board. “You do a very poor job.”

Savage said the board would consider his request for the reduced assessment within the confines of the law.

Warren Leisenring spoke up from the audience. A consultant for Golisano’s Tax My Property Fairly, he is on the Board of Assessment Review for the town of Galen in Wayne County. He said the geese problem is significant and fits criteria for lowering property value to prompt a reduced assessment.

Mike May of Granger Point on the lake, also in South Bristol, said he was arrested by the state Department of Environmental Conservation six years ago for shooting geese that pollute his lake property. May said “the geese are no different than Mexicans coming over the border.”

May added: “I know what problem he is going through.”

After the meeting, May said privately about the ongoing goose trouble: “Some day I’ll reload my Remington.”

May was the only other resident in attendance during Golisano’s presentation who was filing a grievance.