The highest total property-tax rates in the region in 2017 were in four villages in Sullivan and Ulster counties, each of which had that second layer of local government – a village in addition to a town – and three of which had police departments to fund.

The lowest total rates that year were in the five Ulster County towns or parts of them that are in the Onteora School District, which is blessed with the presence of a New York City reservoir and state-owned forests that helps keep the school taxes low.

Those findings were based on data compiled and supplied by the Empire Center for Public Policy in Albany, which gathers and adds tax rates for every county, municipality and school district to show the combined toll of school and government taxes for any place in the state, adjusted to smooth differences in assessment levels and allow comparisons.

Empire Center’s data for Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties show a huge range in effective tax rates, from $62.40 per $1,000 of home value in the Village of Liberty to $18.26 in Marbletown. It also showed a broad variation in home values, which meant that low-value places like Monticello often had high rates but still paid relatively low tax bills for a median-value house.

Liberty’s rate was the second highest in the state outside of New York City and Nassau County, behind only the Village of Sloan ($62.48) in Erie County, according to the Empire Center. And the top rates for the seven counties in the mid-Hudson region, which includes Orange, Ulster and Sullivan, were higher than those in all but one of nine sections of the state ranked by the Empire Center. Only western New York had comparable top rates.

“The rates don’t tell the whole story for a community, but they definitely tell part of it,” said Ken Girardin, a policy analyst for the Empire Center. “The tax rate is a function of how much taxable property exists and how much local governments are spending.”

Among the likely factors in Liberty’s leading rate were its high school and village taxes, low home values and a relatively small tax base.

Ellenville Mayor Jeff Kaplan, whose village had the second-highest combined rate for school, county and municipal taxes in the area, said Wednesday that supporting a police department as a small village was Ellenville’s biggest challenge. Policing costs, including salaries, health insurance and pensions, account for about half the village budget.

Other expenses, Kaplan said, have been “really pared down,” including reducing the village manager position to part-time and cutting the salary in half, to $40,000 from $80,000. He noted that his own salary is down to $3,400 from $4,000 from when he was first elected 18 years ago, and trustee salaries have dropped to $1,750 from $2,000.

Ellenville officials closely studied the possibility of dissolving the village to save money and leaving all municipal services to the Town of Wawarsing. But that would have meant eliminating the police department and relying on the sheriff’s deputies and state troopers for coverage, and they were leery of doing so with so densely populated an area as Ellenville, Kaplan said.

Kaplan also noted that village properties had long been over-taxed in comparison to properties elsewhere in Warwarsing, where the market value of homes had climbed while prices in Ellenville dropped. That was corrected through a townwide revaluation in 2016, which he said led to 7 percent reduction in the village tax rate last year and a 3 percent decrease this year.

At the other end of spectrum was Onteora School District, where New York City and New York state are the two biggest taxpayers and only 1,250 students are enrolled from a territory of more than 280 square miles.

“We are an incredibly unique school district,” Onteora Superintendent Victoria McLaren said.

Kiryas Joel had one of the region’s lowest effective tax rates, at $23.90 per $1,000 of assessed value. But its $406,100 median home value was one of the highest, putting the combined tax bill for a median home at $9,707, according to the Empire Center analysis.

© 2019 Times Herald-Record

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