New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget plan includes a proposal to shift how the state pays property taxes to local communities on lands it owns in the Adirondacks. Regional representatives, municipalities and conservation groups say it would be a bad idea to shift to a PILOT, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes, system.
The Adirondack Park is a mix of public and private lands and the state pays property taxes to towns on state-owned land. A provision in the governor’s proposed budget would change that. Essex County Real Property Tax Service Director Charli Lewis explains the state currently pays the same property tax as any other landowner. “They want to freeze what they paid for taxes in 2017-2018 school taxes and the 2018 town and county taxes. And then from there forward it would only increase by the tax base growth factor or the cost of living whichever is less.”
Essex County receives about $1.9 million from the state in property taxes. Lewis did a calculation to estimate what the impact on the county would be if the state’s revised plan had been in effect this year. “The tax shift in our county is over $185,000 to the local taxpayer and the other taxpayers would have to pick that up because of course you still need to meet the levy.”
Town of Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson is President of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages. He says Warren County receives about $2.7 million from state property taxes. “The PILOT would cap the increased value assessment from year to year at 2 percent or the change in the level of assessment which is lower. So like in the Town of Horicon if the assessed value goes up we’ll say 8 percent and the forest lands are capped at 2 percent or a lower number, in the Town of Horicon we have about 25 percent that is state-owned land, the property owners would have to make up that difference. It would raise our tax rate.”
Several environmental organizations oppose the tax proposal. Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer says state payment of taxes is a cornerstone of park management and is required by state law. “This proposal that came out from the budget division did not include any analysis of what the impacts may be and we think that’s important because you see some communities in the Adirondacks that are 50, 60, 70 percent state-owned Forest Preserve lands. The state paying its fair share is an important factor in those communities.”
Adirondack Council Spokesman John Sheehan notes that in 2010, the last time the state Office of Real Property Tax Services released any information, the Adirondack region received about $75 million annually through state tax payments. The council is calling on the governor to remove the plan in his 30-day amendments. “We think it’s likely that the governor didn’t actually realize that the Division of Budget had included this in his plan and that if he had been briefed on that that it’s our opinion that he would not have thought that was a good idea.”
Representatives from the region are opposing the proposal. Democratic state Assemblyman D. Billy Jones said the proposal “..threatens the viability of the North Country.”