Whether Mary Zlotnick was a misguided clerk who didn’t understand her job, as the Saratoga Springs’ officials who fired her and are now being sued maintain, or a whistle-blower who uncovered improprieties in the assessment reductions of several condominium owners in the city has already been decided, more or less. However, this story’s broader implications — why no one has been bothered to challenge an arcane state law that permitted such reductions — remain intact and need to be addressed.
Zlotnick thought something fishy was going on when a Malta businesswoman who represented a number of city condo owners was able to get their assessments reduced; the clerk not only went to the media with her suspicions (that Assessor Anthony Popolizio was somehow “coaching” the woman on how to obtain the reductions) but the police and state attorney general’s office. Of course that didn’t exactly ingratiate her with her bosses, who accused her of insubordination and fired her when a state Civil Service hearing officer sided with them.
The reductions appear to have been kosher because of a state law, passed 49 years ago to pacify New York City landlords when large numbers of apartments got converted to condos, that says a condo’s assessment should be based not on its market value but its far-lower rental value. Maybe such a law makes sense for condo owners who rent their properties, but it hardly seems fair for those who live in them. Those people don’t deserve the break, because it results in owners of conventional homes having to pay more.
Landlords are still a powerful constituency in the state Legislature, so changing this law won’t be easy. But isn’t it about time someone representing a community like Saratoga — with lots of owner-occupied condos — at least tried?