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Adirondack Council Opposes Change in State Tax Payments for Public Adirondack Forest Preserve

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John Sheehan
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, February 7, 2018 

ALBANY, N.Y. – The Adirondack Council today urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to drop a provision contained in the 2018-19 NYS Executive Budget proposal that would halt state property tax payments to counties, towns and school districts that host public Forest Preserve lands in the Adirondack and Catskill parks.

“We support full property tax payments to Adirondack communities on state Forest Preserve lands, as is currently required by law, not a shift to payments-in-lieu-of-taxes,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway.  “We urge the Governor, who has been a big supporter of Adirondack towns, to direct his Division of Budget to remove this provision from the budget proposal.

“Our communities are currently protected by state laws governing property tax assessments, grievances and appeals,” he said.  “Shifting to these less-formal payments could leave Adirondack communities isolated, forced to negotiate alone against state officials in the future.”

Under the budget proposal, the state’s tax payments would be replaced by payments-in-lieu-of-taxes.  A state-dictated formula would determine how much those payments could increase in future years (2 percent or less in this plan).  State officials have said the proposal would save money at the NYS Office of Real Property Tax Services.

“Local officials tell us they are worried,” Janeway said.  “If the state takes away their legal protections for tax collection in this budget, what’s to stop them from halting the payments entirely in the next budget, or the one after that?

“We understand and share those concerns,” he said.  “We stand by local officials and our neighbors.  We oppose this change. We expect Governor Cuomo to oppose this too.” 

The Adirondack and Catskill parks are both roughly half public and half private lands. Both contain communities, homes and businesses, alongside public Forest Preserve lands that are protected as “forever wild” by the State Constitution.  Many Adirondack towns and counties have passed, or are preparing to pass, resolutions opposing the plan.

Current state law requires the state to pay full property taxes on Forest Preserve in both parks.  State lands are assessed the same way private lands are.  Local assessors work with state officials to determine the state’s tax obligations.  Disputes are settled by well-established procedures.

Janeway said any administrative savings from this plan could be overwhelmed by the potential for long-term financial damage to the Adirondack Park’s 92 towns, 12 counties, nine villages and dozens of schools districts.  The state was paying $75 million per year in property taxes on Forest Preserve lands inside the Adirondack Park in 2010, the last year for which it issued a report.  More than 50,000 acres of new Forest Preserve has been added to the park since then.  Land values have generally increased, but at differing rates in each town.

“This proposal could undermine support for the Forest Preserve from local officials, by forcing them to deal with a constant threat of diminished revenue from a PILOT arrangement.  They could stop seeing the Forest Preserve as the financial asset it is,” Janeway explained.  “That can lead to local opposition to important state land purchases and political pressure to allow more intensive forms of recreation that cause harm to the Forest Preserve’s forests, waters and wildlife.”

Any decline in state financial support for the Forest Preserve would shift the property tax burden to other local private landowners, Janeway said.  That is inherently unfair in a place with low incomes and high land values. 

The vast majority of the Adirondack Park’s towns have 2,000 or fewer residents, so there are few additional taxpayers to cushion any changes.  Census data shows that household incomes for year-round park residents are generally lower than the state average, but similar to, or slightly higher than, other rural parts of the state.

However, land costs more inside the Adirondacks than outside.  A 2015 study by Clarkson University found that over a 10 year period, lands located inside the Adirondack Park brought a price twice as high as similar lands located outside of the park.

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park.  The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms an4d working forests, as well as vibrant communities.

The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action.  Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.

 

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