Governor's budget plan would sock local towns

By Jay Braman Jr.
There’s a little known part of Governor Paterson’s budget plan that, if adopted by the legislature, would raise property taxes for private landowners in the Catskills.
The proposed 2009-2010 budget includes a change to the tax law, which would cap town, county and school taxes paid on state-owned land at their current dollar levels. The change is intended to save the state $9 million in increases over last year’s $183 million property tax bill.
The state owns three million acres and other public facilities statewide, with high concentrations in the Catskills and the Adirondacks. In Shandaken these holdings comprise about two-thirds of all the land in town, and taxes paid on them represent almost 23 percent of the town’s tax revenue according to Assessor Heidi Clarke. In Hardenburgh, with 58 percent state land, the state’s contribution is almost 26 percent says Supervisor Jerry Fairbairn. In Denning the state has about 65 percent of the land.
Should the tax freeze make it into the state’s final budget, the rest of the taxpayers would have to pick up the slack.
“Frankly I’m appalled the governor would propose such a thing,” said Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiSclafani. “It clearly targets small communities that have depended on a low baseline level of state tax revenue since the 19th century. Our towns provide critical services for these lands - road maintenance, fire, police and ambulance protection among other things - and the courts have affirmed it’s the state’s responsibility to pay its taxes like everyone else.”
Denning Supervisor Bill Bruning told reporters that the plan would kill his town.
State Senator John Bonacic called the proposal “blatantly unfair,” adding that the state would not be keeping its commitment to Catskill towns, counties, and school districts should it be approved. He intends to oppose the measure.
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who also opposes the plan, said it would have farther reaching implications due to changes it would bring to equalization rates and school aid.