Towns fight governor on state land tax freeze

By Jay Braman Jr.
Local towns are beginning to fight back against a plan by Governor Paterson that critics say would hike property taxes in the Catskills.
The proposed 2009-2010 state 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 owns 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.
On Monday the Shandaken town board passed a resolution asking the governor to back off on his plan.
According to Supervisor Peter DiSclafani the forest preserve lands provide a multitude of environmental, economic and recreational benefits for all New Yorkers, but it is the towns that host those lands and maintain the many miles of roads that provide access to them. Additionally, the towns provide police protection, fire, emergency and ambulance services to the thousands of people who utilize those lands.
“A tax cap on state-owned Forest Preserve lands would cause great hardship to the citizens of the Town of Shandaken, Ulster County, the Onteora School District, and surrounding Catskill Park communities,” said DiScla-fani. “The cap is not a shared sacrifice but a shifting of the tax burden onto Shandaken taxpayers and would shift the burden of maintaining and supporting these crucial resources to residents of our sparsely populated area.”
According to Jeffrey Gordon, spokesman for the state’s Division of Budget, the governor’s proposal would save the state $9 million in the 2009-10 fiscal year and $16 million in 2010-11. He said local governments could minimize the impact on private landowners by finding ways to cut municipal spending.
John Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council, told the Associated Press that the proposal would be especially harsh for communities in the Adirondack Park where as much as 90 percent of land in some towns is state owned.
Sheehan said the council is dead set against the proposal and is working with more 100 local governments in the Adirondacks and Catskills to fight it.