The school districts that plan the biggest increase and biggest decrease in school taxes in today’s school elections tell an interesting story about how Albany’s effort to pour unprecedented amounts of state funds into local school districts hasn’t translated into widespread property tax relief.
The proposed changes to the property tax levy—the amount a district expects to collect in property taxes—range from a 22 percent increase in the North Country’s Chateaugay school district to an 18 percent reduction in Long Island’s William Floyd district.
In Chateaugay’s case, the levy is being increased by every dollar allowed with supermajority approval under New York’s property tax cap. And they aren’t alone: about a third of school districts are doing the same, even as state school aid has swollen more than 24 percent in just three years.
Chateaugay stands out, in part, for a technical reason: district officials said “much of the tax levy increase is due to” the end of a pair of payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements for area wind energy projects. The turbines and related equipment will be assessed as regular property—and contributing to the total levy—instead of owners making about $500,000 in annual payments.
The shift is a common occurrence. But Chateaugay officials aren’t just making a lateral move: instead, they’re increasing the levy by almost $700,000, from $3.1 million to $3.8 million—while also collecting an additional $2 million in state aid. With the added levy and the additional state aid, they plan to hike spending about 20 percent, or almost $3 million.
It’s unclear whether Chateaugay’s wind equipment will be assessed at values commensurate to their old PILOTs. If not, homeowners and businesses face significant tax increases even as the district gets a record-large helping of state aid.
Almost 400 miles away, in the William Floyd school district on Long Island, Superintendent Kevin Coster has made a point to use the recent surge in state aid to reduce property taxes.
“With the state fulfilling their pledge to fully fund foundation aid, the board of education has put together another amazing budget that adds programs while reducing taxes,” Coster said. “With the costs of just about everything on the rise, this reduction will go a long way toward providing much-needed tax relief to our residents.”
But William Floyd is the exception: only 11 other districts plan to reduce their tax levies next year, most by less than 5 percent. (Another 93 are keeping their levies flat).
It’s a reminder that Albany’s generation-long effort to reduce property taxes by steering more aid to school districts, first through the School Tax Relief (STAR) program that supplemented tax levies and later with the massive growth in operating aid, has rarely translated into lower property taxes.
It’s instead been a costly demonstration that as long as the stream of money from Albany appears limitless, school districts’ tendency to spend it will be, too.