Property taxes can make or break a city, town or village.
Especially when a municipality is looking to capitalize off of a major regional economic development initiative — such as nanotechnology — and attract spinoff business and residents alike.
While a report benchmarking property taxes across the state recently released by the nonpartisan Albany think tank the Empire Center showed that the Mohawk Valley finished in the middle of the pack as a region with a median tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value of $31.75, the rates among individual municipalities differ greatly.
“There’s no question that New Yorkers pay some of the highest property taxes in the country, but the burden can vary widely, even among neighboring jurisdictions,” said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center, in a statement. “By making it easier to compare taxes in different localities, we hope to encourage local taxpayers and elected officials to search for ways of reducing taxes and spending.”
The report — which is based on the most recent data reported to the state Comptroller’s Office reflecting taxes levied during each local government’s 2014 fiscal year — found the top effective tax rates in the Mohawk Valley to be Little Falls ($53.30) and Herkimer ($52.34), and the lowest in the town of Webb ($10.80) and Forestport ($11.49). The area’s major cities, Utica and Rome, appeared on the list of the region’s highest-taxed municipalities, with Utica coming in at $44.62 and Rome $45.14 in the Westmoreland School District and $44.39 for the Oriskany Central School District.
Officials for some of those local governments disputed the the Empire Center’s findings.
Little Falls Mayor Mark Blask said when you take into account that his city has an equalization rate of 20 percent, residents are paying $20.13 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2016.
“I think it’s disingenuous to state that Little Falls has the highest property tax,” said Blask, who also pointed out that residents don’t have to pay for garbage pickup and that the city provides may other services such as a municipal pool and tennis lessons free of charge. “It is important to compare apples to apples and take into account all the factors that comprise taxes as they relate to services.”
City officials in Utica also called into question the validity of the report’s numbers, and said despite its claims that it is one of the higher-taxed areas in the Mohawk Valley, it has been successful in marketing and selling places such as the Landmarc Building, Clark Center, Cosmopolitan Building, Dickie Frank Building and ConMed Building.
“The city’s tax base has expanded by nearly $4.5 million over the past several years, a great long-term indicator for economic growth,” said Mayor Robert Palmieri. “This change can be attributed to the city successfully marketing and selling buildings to reputable private developers who have invested millions in propelling Utica’s revitalization.”
Rome Mayor Jacqueline Izzo, on the other hand, said the report’s numbers for her city were about right, and acknowledged that having a higher tax rate than its surrounding towns and villages is something her administration needs to address.
“Comparing cities to towns is like apples to oranges … but when you are competing for people to live, the bottom line is everyone looks at dollars and cents, so it does concern us,” said Izzo, who has formed an economic and taxing committee that will begin studying the situation in the coming weeks. “We need to come up with a plan to change that rate or come up with other programs to offset it.”
Even the slightest variance in property taxes can make the difference to potential homeowners, said Edward H. Jekel, executive officer of the Mohawk Valley Association of Realtors.
“As far as the amount of taxes on a property and how it affects salability, there is a very direct correlation,” Jekel said. “So our area being a lower cost than other parts of the state for property taxes is nice, but it won’t make a difference of someone choosing to live in Buffalo or Utica, but it might make a difference between Clinton and Holland Patent or Utica and Rome.”
© 2016 Utica Observer-Dispatch