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Albany County, city at odds over tax bill complaints

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy  and Albany City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar
Dave Lucas
Composite Image / WAMC
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and Albany City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar

Elected officials in the city of Albany and Albany County have been dealing with complaints by irate taxpayers who weren't ready for rate hikes.  

When tax bills began showing up in this month's mail, some residents became alarmed. Former Albany common councilor Judy Doesschate addressed the panel at its January 4th meeting, noting that the tax bills use different homestead and non-homestead proportions than previously approved by the common council in 2022.

"The new rates used by the treasurer substantially shift the tax levy burden from commercial properties to homestead properties," said Doesschate. "This along with a 1.6% increase in the total tax levy has resulted in tax bills for the average home owner going up by over 4.5% this year alone, and that's just for the city taxes."

Doesschate pointed out that the average homeowner with a property assessed at $200,000 will see more than a $300 increase in total property taxes in 2024.

"This is not the mere $90 the mayor suggested when she did her budget presentation. And this increased tax burden could be compounded by the limited or full reassessments being considered by the administration," Doesschate said.

Resident complaints about tax increases snowballed when senior citizens began contacting city and county officials after their bills jumped dramatically, some doubling.

City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar: "If you're a low-income senior, at least in the city of Albany, you are eligible for a reduction in your taxes through a tax exemption on your property. And then before 2022, the maximum income level was $37,400. But in 2022, in August, the state allowed localities to opt to raise that income threshold to $58,400. And this was brought to all the tax assessors in the county of Albany by the county. And the city of Albany raised the threshold in February, I believe, in 2023. But the county unfortunately didn't do it until June of 2023. So that meant that for those seniors who are eligible, that $58,400 threshold there, they received the exemption on the city portion of their tax bills, but they didn't receive it on the county portion their tax bills in the city of Albany. So what the net result of that was that several seniors started calling our office as soon as they received their tax bills and called their council members, and wanted to understand why their tax bills went up by $100, $200, $300, $400," said Shahinfar. 

City and county officials blamed each other for the increases.

Last week Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and newly-minted County Legislature Chair Joanne Cunningham, both Democrats, wrote to city of Albany officials in an effort to try and sort things out.

McCoy says he's fielded hundreds of calls and emails asking what happened. He counts many factors at play: incomes change, policies change and the timelines of city and county governments aren't always synchronized. He says the city did a reassessment of all properties and the value of houses went up.

"We're still going to collect the same money because even though that money is going to come in, and we're going to have seniors that qualify now, and then that money will, it shifts, right that burden, the break," McCoy said. "So I'm still collecting the same tax dollar I've collected the last two years that has been flat in the city of Albany, it's just the fact that of what happened, there's nothing we can do to address it, we're having a meeting. And unfortunately, it's just a lot of circumstances that played into it. I wish it didn't play out like this, we're better than this in government. And, you know, it's not about finger pointing, it's about getting the job done and taking the best interest of your constituents."

One thing McCoy and Shahinfar agree on: people must pay their taxes. Again, Shahinfar: "If they don't, they're subject to penalties and ultimately, foreclosure, but that takes years. But as of right now, that's that people do have to pay their tax bills. And I've spoken with the county and several times over the past almost two weeks about the issue. I provided them a bunch of more information last night. I know they're taking a hard look at seeing what they can and can't do. And will and won't do. But it's really in the hands of the county right now," Shahinfar said.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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