By Tom Precious
ALBANY – Led by some governments in Western New York, one-fourth of New York state’s real property value is exempt from local property taxes, a report released Wednesday by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found.
The increasing number of land and buildings not liable for property taxes illustrates just some of the fiscal strains facing many local governments.
With the total market value of all real estate in New York state pegged at $2.5 trillion, DiNapoli said $680 billion is exempt from property taxes. Besides federal, state, local and foreign government-owned land being exempt, other major categories of exempt properties include religious organizations, non-profit organizations, Indian reservations and universities.
For Buffalo, 37 percent of total property value is exempt from property taxation. In Salamanca, where much land is owned by the Seneca Nation of Indians, the level reaches 63 percent. Among all cities, the state’s highest level of exempt property is Rensselaer, located across the Hudson River from Albany; 65 percent of real property value is not liable for any property taxes.
Among counties, Niagara County, home to large amounts of New York Power Authority property, 36 percent of total property value is exempt from property taxes. The state’s highest level among counties, at 40 percent, is Tomkins County.
Of the statewide total exemption number, $343 million is for land owned by government entities. The overall number also includes $224 million in partial exemptions, led largely by the state’s STAR property tax program.
“In an era of limited resources, the impact of property tax exemptions complicates the financial picture of our local governments,” DiNapoli said in a statement accompanying the new report. “In localities with higher exemptions, taxable property owners are often carrying a much higher burden. Local leaders will need to continue to find creative ways to offset these exemptions and must carefully weigh any decision to offer new exemptions. Syracuse is attempting to tackle this challenge head on and others can learn from its example."
The comptroller’s release quoted Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who Cuomo handpicked as the state’s Democratic Party chair; she has been on the outs with the Cuomo administration since she went public with concerns about fiscal proposals made by the governor.
“Property which cannot be taxed is a major driver of the current fiscal crisis facing our cities,’’ Miner said in a statement. She noted that nonprofits, including hospitals, “demand and deserve" public services, such as police and fire protection, but pay no property taxes to fund those services.