State land tax freeze dropped from budget

By Jay Braman Jr.
New York will continue to pay its fair share of local taxes on forest preserve, and other state-owned lands, under a budget deal worked out over the weekend, but the deal won’t be final until the budget is approved.
That’s according to officials with the Adirondack Mountain Club, who have been fighting a tax-cap proposal since it was announced by Governor Paterson earlier this year.
The proposed 2009-2010 budget included a change to the tax law, which would have capped town, county and school taxes paid on state-owned land at their current levels. The change was 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.
Had the tax freeze made it into the state’s final budget, the rest of the taxpayers would have to pick up the slack with double digit tax increases possible.
“While it’s not final yet, we are very pleased that this ill-conceived policy has been stricken from the budget,” said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. “The freeze would have had a significant fiscal impact on communities in the Adirondacks, Catskills and other parts of the state and would have crippled the state’s open-space program at a time when so many critical parcels are available.”
Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, who, through the New York Association of Counties, participated in the effort to halt the plan, was pleased Monday.
“Where the state has a legitimate obligation to pay its fair share of taxes, it must,” said Hein in a prepared statement.
At press time, state lawmakers were expected to vote on the budget Tuesday.