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Tax-cap proposal has Blue Liners seeing red

February 23, 2009
By ZACH SUBAR/The Leader-Herald

A proposal from Gov. David Paterson to cap property taxes on state-owned land in the Adirondack Park has generated a lot of talk inside the Blue Line.

If the proposed cap remains in the governor's final budget, Gloversville lawyer George Abdella says he will be stuck paying more but getting no additional benefit.

"The more property you own, the more taxes you would have to pay, and I'm not getting any benefit from it," he said. "I'm just paying the taxes."

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen

Sherman’s Park on West Caroga Lake is seen Saturday along East Shore Road in Caroga.

Abdella owns Sherman's Amusement Park and a home in Caroga, a municipality whose land is 67 percent state-owned. Those like him who own a relatively large amount of land could feel the effects of the cap more than others, but residents, elected officials and environmental groups alike say the proposal would put an unfair burden on all taxpayers living inside the Blue Line.

"The whole idea is an outrage," Bleecker Supervisor David Howard said. "It will hurt every single person. It doesn't matter if you are assessed for $40,000 or $400,000-you're going to be hurt."

Since 1886, the state has paid taxes on the 2.7 million acres of land it owns within the Adirondack Park and the 288,000 acres it owns in the Catskills, which also would see its tax revenue capped under the proposal. The state Department of Environmental Conservation designates the land "forever wild," meaning development is severely restricted there.

Paterson has said the cap would help shave $9 million off the state's budget this year, and budget spokesman Jeffrey Gordon said the measure was consistent with the governor's mission to freeze payments to municipalities at their current levels.

"Given the current fiscal circumstances, reductions were proposed in every area of spending," Gordon said. "No area was exempt from reductions, and this is no exception."

Those who live in municipalities that contain a great deal of state-owned Forest Preserve land - such as Wells, Benson, Bleecker and Caroga - say the $9 million would come directly out of residents' pockets.

Officials have said the state is giving itself unreasonable latitude to change the amount of property tax it pays during a given year, while residents are stuck with tax increases they are unable to control.

"It's no different than going into a grocery store and saying, 'I'm going to pay 50 cents for this milk when you're charging $2 for it,'" Northampton Supervisor Linda Kemper said.

The fight against the measure is unique in that environmental groups and local municipalities, which have recently butted heads over new Adirondack Park Agency regulations, say the governor's proposal would have a devastating effect on those who live in the area.

Adirondack Council Legislative Director Scott Lorey, a representative from the environmental group, testified at a public hearing on the environmental conservation portion of Paterson's budget that "a cap of tax payments would serve as an unfunded mandate on communities that are already burdened by state actions."

Various groups have been working to ensure the measure is not adopted in Paterson's final budget. The Adirondack Common Ground Alliance, a group composed of officials and business owners within the park, drafted a letter to the governor asking him to remove the amendment to section 544 of the real property tax law. It was signed by several area supervisors and mayors.

Though the law was not rescinded during a 30-day period during which the governor could make amendments to his budget, local groups have continued to fight the provision. The Adirondack Council issued an "action alert" to its members on the matter, and the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages has written a resolution formally opposing the matter.

Kemper, who attended a New York State Association of Counties meeting two weeks ago along with other area supervisors, said many who attended the conference expressed their concern to Paterson representatives in attendance.

"We expressed our concern about this property tax cap and they had agreed to set up a meeting with us in the very near future," she said. "We thought that was very fair-to sit down and listen to our concerns."

Kemper said some of NYSAC's recommendations to offset the $9 million budget shortfall include the state putting a moratorium on purchasing more Forest Preserve land-the state does plan to buy more-or to practice better land management in terms of its logging and timbering.

She said NYSAC also recommended the state take money out of its $67 million Environmental Protection Fund to offset the costs, though Wells Supervisor and AATV President Brian Towers said he felt such a move could alienate the environmental groups with whom municipalities had formed an "alliance."

Towers said many state legislators and staff he has spoken with have called the measure "bad policy," and said he remained optimistic the governor could find another way to make up the $9 million difference.

As of now, he said, the state pays 60 percent of taxes on the land, while property owners pay 40 percent. In four years, he said, that could flip-flop to the point where property owners are paying 60 percent while the state pays 40 percent.

"It's a very small percentage of the $120 billion [the state spends each year]," he said. "But it will have a devastating impact on the people in the Adirondacks. The people who live here literally are hosts to the Adirondack Park."



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