A recent New York Time’s Op Ed post on February 13, 2013 from City of Syracuse Mayor, Stephanie Minor, states that “the model of using property taxes to finance schools, police, fire, sanitation and other services is no longer sustainable.” For years, we have heard from assessors, attorneys and appraisers heavily involved in assessment litigation that NYS needs to find another way to fund government services other than property taxes. A drop in or total lack of funding for proper assessing combined with ever increasing external pressures to “find more taxable value” so that tax rates don’t skyrocket, some assessors may feel over-worked (underpaid) and unable to keep up with the basic mandate of RPTL Section 305 (that all property be assessed at a uniform percentage of value every year). Revaluations usually result in a more equitably-distributed tax burden, but remain exceedingly unpopular among local politicians because they generally don’t result in more tax revenue and can be political suicide (never mind that no local operating budget can afford the cost of a full revaluation with data collection).
Property values are, and always have been, difficult to ascertain on both an individual level and across similar property types in comparable municipalities. Further, property values may not be the best indicators of wealth or one’s “fair tax share”. Moreover, beyond the exemptions provided by RPTL 420-a, many exemptions simply do not encourage business or provide the benefits for which they were intended, but rather could be viewed as nothing more than unfunded state mandates.
Some have opined that NYS should utilize the lottery or switch to an income-based system like NYC to pay for municipal services. While the Governor’s property tax cap has successfully put our state’s system of real property taxation in the spotlight, allowing the citizenry of this state to realize, if nothing else, that the property tax system may be broken, little has been done at the legislative/state level to effectuate positive change to the fundamental problems underlying our entire system of real property taxation. The issues that have plagued NYS since the last RPTL rewrite in the 1950s remain the same issues we face today. It’s time for the state to stop taking baby steps and half-measures. Full scale property tax reform is needed now more than ever for the benefit of all constituencies – property owners, businesses, and municipalities.
Hats off to Mayor Minor for putting in print what many have thought – that it’s time for an independent tax commission to be formed to revamp the RPTL.