Rotterdam residents who are in the Schenectady City School District got sticker shock when they opened their school tax bills this month.
A total of 244 properties near the city line pay city school taxes, and owners had expected the same tax increase as city residents: 2.3 percent. Instead, they saw an 18.8 percent increase.
One resident’s school tax bill alone went up $559. Another resident, who has houses in the city and in Rotterdam, paid $59 more in the city and $506 more in the town.
Neither expected it.
“I went, ‘What? Oh my God!’ ” said resident Ray Hyam. “My property is 11 houses from the city line. Eleven houses.”
His tax rate should be the same as that of the city residents, he said. But it’s not — and not because the school district is raising Rotterdam’s rate.
The school board decided to raise $54 million in taxes. The state divides up that bill, using the value of each building and the equalization rate in each municipality to decide how much district taxpayers in each municipality should pay.
This year, equalization rates changed dramatically. Schenectady’s rate went from 108 percent to 123 percent, while Rotterdam’s fell slightly, from 102 percent to 100 percent. That means Rotterdam’s houses are generally assessed at what they are worth on the open market — 100 percent of value — and Schenectady’s houses are assessed far more than their actual value.
The end result: Rotterdam had to pay a greater share of the total school tax.
There’s not much of Rotterdam in the Schenectady school district. Of the $54 million in taxes, $1.6 million will be paid by Rotterdam property owners this school year.
Rotterdam residents said they were angry the school district did not at least warn them before the budget vote.
“It’d be nice if you could plan for this, you know?” Hyam said.
He added it would be better to use the same tax rate for every property.
“I just want to see some fairness in this,” he said.
Resident David Dickson said he wanted an apology from the school district for the rise in taxes. He also wants school leaders to cut back on spending.
“I know it’s tough. It’s going to hurt,” he said. “But you’re talking about retired people. What about the people who can’t pay it?”
School officials do try to estimate a tax increase before the public budget vote, but they use the previous year’s equalization rates, spokeswoman Karen Corona said. The current year’s rates aren’t available until after the budget vote.
“We do try to get them, but because they’re not finalized, we are not able to get them,” she said.
She added school officials would prefer not to raise taxes at all. The district has filed an official complaint against the state regarding its education aid, alleging the state discriminates against poor, non-white districts by giving them millions less than they are promised under the state formula.
“If we were getting all the state aid we should be getting, we would be giving money back to the taxpayers and this wouldn’t even be a topic of discussion,” Corona said.