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Editorials
What you need to know for 01/16/2017

Editorial: When is a tax cap not a tax cap?

Editorial: When is a tax cap not a tax cap?

Uneven assessing methods result in higher taxes for some homeowners

Most homeowners in the Niskayuna Central School District live within the town, and as Thursday’s Gazette story indicated, that means their tax bills will be going up a modest 2 percent this year. But roughly 20 percent of the school district’s taxes are paid by residents of Glenville, Colonie and Clifton Park, and because of differing assessment practices and property values in those towns, their taxes will be rising anywhere from 6.3 percent to 9.9 percent. So much for the state’s 2 percent tax cap.

The disparity points to a flaw in the state’s property assessment system. All properties in all communities should be assessed at 100 percent of full value, but they rarely are. In this case, Glenville’s are assessed at 92 percent, Colonie’s are at 70 percent, Clifton Park’s are at 58 percent, while Niskayuna’s are at 107 percent. Consequently, while Niskayuna taxpayers will pay just 2 percent more next year — as per the state’s tax cap — residents of the other communities are looking at tax hikes of 8.3 percent, 6.3 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively.

There are ways to address this. One way is to have truly uniform assessments — all municipalities at 100 percent all the time. But this is easier said than done because performing full-value property revaluations is expensive and politically explosive; once a reval gets done, there’s not much enthusiasm for doing another one in a hurry. Still, assessments can be kept up to date annually better than a lot of assessors do. The state needs to provide carrots for them to do so, and sticks if they don’t.

Another problem is that there are too many assessors. Since their methods vary, inconsistent property values often result from one community to another. The best solution to this problem is for assessments to be handled regionally (probably impractical politically), or at least at the county level — with a single assessor or assessment department. That would be not only cheaper, but fairer.

And though a single assessor in Schenectady County wouldn’t help residents of Colonie or Clifton Park, the situation raises an obvious question: Can’t the state at least set school district boundaries so that they’re all within the same county?

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