Board rejects state proposal

The Fulton County Board of Supervisors' Finance Committee discusses opposition to pending state legislation Thursday at the County Office Building. At center is Mayfield Supervisor Rick Argotsinger, committee chairman. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Board of Supervisors’ Finance Committee on Thursday opposed two of Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposals regarding state forest preserve lands county officials feel will hurt its counties.

The committee voted at the County Office Building to sponsor a resolution opposing a proposal in the state’s 2018 budget review bill. The full board will vote on final opposition Monday.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said the proposal would change the law regarding taxation of state forest preserve lands. The law would go from a current, locally-assessed system to a Payment In Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT system, administered and controlled solely by New York state, he said.

“I think there’s going to be huge opposition to this,” Stead said.

The move would hurt Total Assessed Valuation of properties, or how much they are worth, he said.

“It’s going to take a huge amount of TAV off the assessment rolls over time,” Stead said.

He said that in his “opinion,” the new PILOT system will “artificially maintain” state forest lands at a less than 2 percent tax levy cap “no matter what,” which ultimately hurts the towns involved.

New York state-owned lands are currently assessed by each local municipality substantially the same way, as is private land, Stead said. Current law provides this is the “exclusive providence” of the municipality and its local assessors, he said.

County Real Property Tax Services Agency Director Peter Galarneau said 50 percent of state forest preserve lands in Fulton County are in the towns of Bleecker and Stratford. He said he “can’t see a plus side” for Fulton County with the governor’s proposal.

“The state used to have a team of foresters,” Galarneau said. “Basically, this is saving the state money.”

Stead said the new PILOT method will be centrally controlled by the state, and be based upon a formula rather than increases or decreases in the actual market value of the lands, as is current methodology. He said the proposal will result in loss of revenue by the local municipalities, shifting the tax burden to local taxpayers.

Recent state land purchases in the Adirondacks has increased state ownership to more than 2.6 million acres of the six million-acre Adirondack Park, Stead said. The state controls an additional 800,000 acres by state conservation easements purchased the last 40 years, he said.

He said the proposal would “catastrophically affect” the ability of municipalities and school districts to function. He said that could lead to curtailment of business and development in the Adirondack Park, resulting in migration of population from the park.

The committee also opposed another part of Cuomo’s proposal to add an additional, new 480-B taxation of forest land exemption under a Forest Practice Program or Forest Certification Program known as the “Empire Forests for the Future Initiative.” Final board action mirroring committee opposition on that would also come Monday.

Stead said that proposal takes the definition of an eligible tract from the current 50 acres of forest land and reduces it to 25 acres of forest land or other spaces

He said the proposal grants a 70 percent reduction of the assessed value on eligible land under the Forest Certification Program, and a 40 percent reduction of the assessed value on eligible land under the Forest Management Practice Plan. Again, Stead said this proposal has the potential to dramatically reduce the taxable value of the local taxing jurisdictions.

“I’m not sure how closely these [state forest] plans are being followed,” Galarneau said. “Basically, it’s smoke and mirrors. In both of these scenarios, the town loses.”

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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