Schenectady County

Niskayuna residents balk at school tax hike

Some Niskayuna residents facing school tax bills this month say they feel they are facing a perfect

Some Niskayuna residents facing school tax bills this month say they feel they are facing a perfect storm.

Niskayuna homeowners in the South Colonie Central School District are finding their tax bills are 30 percent higher than anticipated. The problem is the confounding system of taxation in New York.

“That’s the best way to describe it,” said Niskayuna resident Jim Feldman of the perfect storm analogy.

Feldman was preparing for a modest increase in school taxes. Niskayuna’s reassessment last year raised the value of his Jason Lane home by 11 percent, while South Colonie voters passed a 2008-2009 school budget including a 5.2 percent hike.

But he wasn’t prepared for the more than 33 percent increase in the school tax bill this year, amounting to $1,278 more than the $3,966 he paid last year. The district had initially predicted a 4 percent increase in school taxes based on the assessment information they had at the time, when voters approved a $61 million levy last May.

“That’s tough to swallow,” said Feldman, an organizer of nearly 200 property owners up in arms over the unexpected increase. “I’m not getting anything more for that except for a headache.”

Like more than 700 school districts across the state, South Colonie collects school taxes from more than one municipality. Each year, the district attempts to distribute the levy equitably across its three towns, including Colonie, Niskayuna and a small part of Guilderland.

The problem for the district’s Niskayuna residents stems from the percentage at which Colonie and Niskayuna assessed land over the past year. Niskayuna’s full property value increased by 3 percent, while Colonie experienced a devaluation of 10 percent, according to Geoff Gloak, a spokesman with the state Office of Real Property Services.

The dip in Colonie’s value was largely attributed to an $18 million decrease in commercial assessments resulting from tax challenge settlements. Meanwhile, Niskayuna’s revaluation resulted in a slight increase in the town’s total property values.

“What you have here is a sort of a systemic problem,” he said.

Niskayuna has 1,334 residential properties and only 86 commercial parcels that together represent about 9 percent of the South Colonie taxing district. With a greater percentage of residential properties, Niskayuna’s homeowners ultimately felt a disproportionate impact from the value difference between the two municipalities.

“Each has an impact on the other,” said Beverly Miller, South Colonie’s assistant superintendent for management services. “It’s a chain reaction.”

There is also a discrepancy between the equalization rates between the towns. Colonie last completed a reassessment in 2000 and is listed at 67 percent of full value, while Niskayuna is listed at full value.

Feldman argues this difference compounds the impact felt by the Niskayuna residents in the South Colonie district. For instance, he said there are a greater number of Colonie properties that are undervalued, meaning they pay less than their fair share of taxes before factoring the municipal value differences.

“These businesses are already being assessed at 2000 prices to begin with,” he said. But because Colonie is facing a more than $16 million budget deficit this year, a costly revaluation doesn’t appear likely in the near future. Senior Appraiser Mark Swift said the town simply doesn’t have the funds now to conduct a full reassessment, and when they do reassess, the situation between the two towns will likely be dramatically different.

“Unfortunately, we all don’t leap forward at the same time,” he said. “If Colonie had done [a revaluation] and Niskayuna hadn’t, the situation would be in reverse.”

Feldman and the other affected Niskayuna property owners are now seeking legal help to explore their options, but Feldman admits there doesn’t appear to be any easy solution. He said part of the effort now is to get word to residents who pay their taxes through escrow accounts and might not realize the drastic increases they’re now facing.

“When you get hit for a $1,000 or $1,500 bill you don’t know you re going to have, it’s serious,” he said.

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