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Fiscal watchdog offers database to compare local taxes and spending

Fiscal watchdog offers database to compare local taxes and spending

Rates vary greatly between municipalities in one of the most heavily taxed states
Fiscal watchdog offers database to compare local taxes and spending
Photographer: Shutterstock

ALBANY — A fiscal watchdog on Wednesday released its annual report on New York municipal finance, a comprehensive ranking of taxes levied and money spent by cities, towns and villages across the state.

The nonprofit Empire Center of Public Policy declares itself an independent nonpartisan organization, but its fiscally conservative philosophy places it in opposition to some policies of New York state, where the tax burden is among the highest in the nation.

The organization’s Benchmarking New York report is offered without comment or criticism, as a way for residents to see how their hometown’s taxing and spending ranks against others.

It consists of data self-reported by local governments to the Office of the State Comptroller. The database is incomplete because some municipalities haven’t provided the necessary data; in the greater Capital Region, the cities of Johnstown and Mechanicville are among the missing.

The report also notes that undisclosed factors may influence the numbers: The village of Saltaire, for example, spent the seemingly astronomical sum of $204,864.86 per resident in 2018, and the per-capita tax burden amounted to a seemingly confiscatory $67,860.62. But the village sits on exclusive Fire Island, and has only 41 residents. Its roughly 450 housing units are mostly very expensive vacation homes occupied only in the summer, and the tax burden is spread among the owners of those houses. 

Also not factored in are one-time windfalls or emergency spending that might skew a single year's numbers. 

The report summary focuses on highest and lowest in categories such as spending and taxes on a per-resident basis in 2018. Capital Region municipalities were mostly absent from this list, though a few did occupy the top or bottom of one or more categories:

  • Saratoga was lowest in per-capita spending, per-capita taxes and property tax rate among mid-sized counties.
  • Fulton was lowest in per-capita debt among small counties.
  • Albany was lowest in per-capita spending and debt but highest in tax rate among large cities.
  • Amsterdam was lowest in per-capita taxes among mid-sized cities.
  • Wilton had the lowest tax rate among mid-sized towns.
  • Green Island had the lowest per-capita spending and taxes among small towns.
  • Nelliston had the lowest per-capita debt among small villages.

Much more extensive detail is available by searching individual municipalities or spending categories at https://www.seethroughny.net/benchmarking; the database provides data and ranks the data among similarly sized municipalities. Here are some notable per-capita stats for 2018:

  • Troy got the most federal aid among Capital Region cities; Schenectady got only half as much but still ranked second-highest.
  • Galway collected the most fines in the region.
  • Albany collected more payments in lieu of taxes than any other municipality.
  • Schenectady raked in the most interest on tax-delinquent property.
  • Round Lake recorded the most rental revenue.
  • Total expenditures were highest in the village of Lake George.
  • Hudson spent the most on police, followed by Albany and Saratoga Springs; Schenectady and Menands were tied for fourth place.
  • Saratoga Springs has one of the lowest tax rates but one of the highest tax levies among mid-sized cities because the value of taxable property there was so high. (Low property tax rate, expensive property.)
  • Among 10 cities in the region, Schenectady had the highest effective tax rate but one of the lowest tax levies because the value of property there was so low. (High property tax rate, cheap property.)
  • Among medium-sized upstate towns, Halfmoon had one of the lowest effective property tax rates because it has one of the highest rates of revenue from sales, utility and other use taxes.

CAPITAL REGION RANKINGS

The following rankings for select cities and towns in the greater Capital Region were drawn from the Local Government Spending & Revenue database. From left to right are rankings for per-capita value of taxable property; effective municipal property tax rate; municipal debt; and municipal spending:

Rank among 48 upstate cities
Albany 11 26 31 27
Amsterdam 45 27 19 33
Gloversville 44 5 38 41
Saratoga Springs 1 43 7 11
Schenectady 38 17 12 28
Troy 27 18 23 26

Rank among 849 upstate towns
Clifton Park 160 760 265 421
Colonie 169 581 71 99
Glenville 339 468 197 472
Halfmoon 152 715 84 225
Niskayuna 148 559 28 60
Rotterdam 303 294 223 243

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