How do I fight property taxes in New York?

Even with the new tax cap, New York’s property tax rates among highest in country


The new property tax cap law

You may be one of the homeowners who were glad to see Gov. Andrew Cuomo succeed in getting passed a bill that caps property taxes at 2 per cent per year (or the rate of inflation, whichever is less), with emergency clauses to be to handle judgments from a lawsuit (tort action) or unexpected year-to-year contributions for pension funds.

Also included in the legislation were methods to override the cap: According to a state .pdf document, “The Property Tax Cap: Guidelines for Implementation,”The tax levy cannot exceed the cap unless 60 percent of voters (for school districts) or 60 percent of the total voting power of the governing body (for local governments) approve such increase.”

That may seem backward: School districts have been hard hit through the years, as the state “kicked the can” to local districts, and now this new cap has to be defeated by–not merely a majority but also by–an overwhelming majority of voters. Yet, on whichever local board may oversee property taxes, that may require only a 4-person majority on a 6-person board.

Some localities already overriding the cap–or looking to do so

According to an Oct. 5 story in the Ithaca Journal, “Tompkins County is the first county in New York to override the state’s property tax cap, after the legislature voted Tuesday to approve a local law authorizing itself to raise the tax levy more than the state’s limit.

“The tax cap, new this year, limits municipalities, counties and school districts to tax levy increases of 2 percent, plus some limited exceptions that increase individual entities’ limits, some up to more than 4 percent.

“Tompkins County’s tax cap would be 2.9 percent.

“Mark LaVigne, deputy director of the New York State Association of Counties, confirmed Wednesday that no other county has approved an override of new law, though others have started the process.”

Note: As alluded? The county legislature’s vote to override the state cap was 9-6. So far, no word from Tompkins County on scheduling a popular vote for the school district.

However, at least one recent editorial warns local boards about going against the grain of popular will:

But, any board members who try to bust the cap because they don’t think they can deliver a budget that meets the law better seriously think about the public reaction. It won’t be pretty. Property owners are fed up with higher taxes, and they didn’t come out strongly for the cap only to see it ignored. Boards that don’t deliver what the taxpayers were promised — whether they supported the cap or just had it thrust upon them by the state — can likely expect political repercussions. And if any school board thinks voters will get behind the idea of exceeding the cap, well, they are going to get a surprise next May.

Fighting back

OK, so this will be a two-part answer. Number one, as a New York state homeowner (New York City has different considerations, as might be expected), your mission for prevention is political. Basically, you need to be–or become–part of the lobby that matters in regard to your county tax authority. Teachers, educators and “school people” probably have a tougher job, because of the perception that teachers have “cushy jobs” with much time off and strong pension/retirement plans: your mission is a “win the hearts and souls” of the public, in order to increase the rate for schools via a 60 per cent margin at the polls.

Continued in Property Taxes in New York, Part 2: What if I already owe back taxes?

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