Two weeks ago, Adirondack interests raised concerns about an item Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget that would shift how New York pays property taxes to local communities on lands it owns in the Adirondacks. Now, a “Forever Taxable” Coalition has been formed to oppose a Payment in Lieu of Taxes system in the Adirondacks and Catskills.
The Adirondack Park is a mix of public and private lands. The state pays property taxes to towns on state-owned land — the same property tax as any private landowner. The state Tax Department has proposed freezing and then capping the taxes that the state pays in the current budget proposal.
Municipalities and conservation groups had asked the governor to remove the proposed cap and PILOT, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes, system from the Executive Budget. That did not happen. Now the Citizen Advisory Panels for the Adirondack and Catskill parks, conservation groups and local governments have formed the “Forever Taxable” Coalition to oppose the plan.
Adirondack Wild Friends of the Forest Preserve Managing Partner David Gibson says the taxable status of the 3 million acres of Forest Preserve is critical for the 102 governments and school districts in the Adirondacks and Catskills. “Because it’s such a relatively small item, dollar-wise, it could get buried and ignored. And that’s our job as a coalition to make sure that Forever Wild lands are forever taxable. These are state commitments and the state has to honor them otherwise it becomes much more difficult for the state to count on the towns to support land protection. That’s the real threat here is that future land protection proposals by the state of New York will not get the support at the local level that they deserve.”
Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Chairman and Town of Saranac Councilman Gerald Delaney notes that in some towns the vast majority of property is owned by the state, so if the state caps what it pays, private landowners would have to pick up the tax burden. He says that would not be viable in towns where the majority of land is state-owned. “That’s a huge impact on those towns and counties. The little town of Arietta I believe is one of the towns at 92 percent. So the state would cap 92 percent of the land at 2 percent growth and that tax burden would then shift to the private landowners.”
Adirondack Council Spokesman John Sheehan says the proposed tax revision reinforces a fear that the state is trying to remove financial support for the Forest Preserve. “We think that the communities are really an integrated part of the landscape and overall have not encroached into the backcountry. There is a state interest in making sure that that balance continues and that New York state the best way that they can help is by paying its share of taxes on the Forest Preserve. If those communities lose the support then we can’t really count on those communities to support the Forest Preserve. It would not only put the communities in a position where they might actually try to stop future purchases but also ask for more intensive recreation on existing lands to get more financial benefit out of it if they feel that they’re not being fairly compensated by the state.”
Coalition members believe the proposed change in the tax payment system would be illegal. Again Gerald Delaney: “The Real Property Tax law which actually says the state will pay taxes on state Forest Preserve as if it was privately owned. We feel that law would have to be repealed before they could actually institute a PILOT.”
New York State Real Property Tax Law Section 542 mandates that Forest Preserve land must be valued as if privately owned and in Section 532A is taxable for all purposes.