“I believe local governments will see this proposal as the cap on payments to their jurisdictions, something they have long feared as the state continues to acquire private land in the Adirondacks,” says Fred Monroe, the executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board.
“There is a fear that this is a first step to reducing payments made by the State to local governments on Forest Preserve lands,” said Dan Macentee, a spokesman for State Senator Betty Little.
At issue is a proposal to change the way New York State pays taxes on Forest Preserve lands to localities.
According to current law, state lands are valued by local assessors as though they were private lands and reviewed by the state’s Office of Real Property Tax Services.
“Reviewing local assessment determinations is a time-consuming undertaking,” says Morris Peters, a spokesman for the Division of Budget.
To achieve greater efficiency, property tax payments would be replaced by Payments in Lieu of Taxes, Peters explained.
“The most recent assessment would be the base level and the amount would be inflated each year,” said Peters. “Under this proposal, the State’s payments would actually grow each year, commensurate with the growth of the statewide allowable levy limit.”
The savings to New York State come not from reducing payments to localities but, rather, “from freeing the Office of Real Property Tax Services of the responsibility of reviewing local assessment determinations,” said Peters.
“The goal of this budget proposal is not to reduce property tax payments on Forest Preserve lands, the goal is to achieve administrative efficiencies,” Peters emphasized.
As Fred Monroe reads the budget bill, the payments would be capped at 1.02% or 1% plus the inflation factor, whichever is lower.
Monroe said local governments would lose their authority to assess Forest Preserve lands according to the budgetary needs of the community, as they have for decades, without, however, acquiring new powers to control external influences on their budgets, such as unfunded state mandates.
Moreover, Monroe said, it was unclear how much localities would receive in payments when additional forest preserve lands were created within their taxing districts.
In all likelihood, he said, “the gap in revenues for Adirondack schools and local government will become wider as the state acquires more private land, which they will no longer be allowed to assess as it grows in value.”
Asked how New York State Senator Betty Little viewed the proposal, Dan Macentee said, “Senator Little is certainly opposed to this proposal. At the least, without the benefit of any sort of analysis or even a clear answer as to what the State’s intention is, this proposal should not advance.”
John Sheehan, a spokesperson for the Adirondack Council, was also asked for comments.
“The Adirondack Council supports continued full payment by the State of New York of real property taxes on Forest Preserve lands in the Adirondack and Catskill parks. The Adirondack Council opposes any cuts in these payments, which support the communities that host the ‘forever wild,’ public Forest Preserve,” Sheehan stated.
The Adirondack Council has “asked for clarification of the reasons and likely impacts of this proposed change,” the organization’s executive director, Willie Janeway, has stated.
According to Dan Macentee, Senator Little has urged the executive branch to drop the proposal.
“If the language is not excised from the budget as part of the 30-day amendments, the Senate and Assembly will need to address it in their one-house budgets,” said Macentee.
Map of State Land in the Adirondack Park, courtesy Adirondack Atlas.