Conservation Archive

Conservation

April 1, 2018

David Katz
davidk@slic.com
315-386-4393

Governor Cuomo’s proposed New York State budget contains a seemingly innocuous provision that, if enacted, may seriously hamper conservation efforts in both the Adirondacks and the Catskills.

Currently, New York State pays local taxes on Forest Preserve lands in both parks. Under this system, the local assessor determines the taxable value of state-owned land (subject to judicial review), and the tax rate is determined by the local budget. Since state-owned lands are assessed and taxed by the same methods as privately-owned lands, the state’s contribution to each locality’s budget is calculated in the same way as every other landowner’s.

Under the changes proposed in the state budget, New York State would stop paying taxes and would instead make Payments In Lieu Of Taxes, also called PILOT payments. This creates two potential problems: First, the size of PILOT payments won’t necessarily increase if the value of forest land increases, so private forest-owners may see tax increases while the state’s PILOT payments don’t change. Second, the state would determine whether there would be annual increases in the payments, and the proposal caps annual increases at slightly over one percent. So while local taxpayers frequently see tax increases of 2% or more, the state’s increase might be less than half as much.

These changes don’t seem like a big deal, but over time, local taxpayers would have to shoulder more and more of the burden of keeping their towns functioning. This would be a problem, particularly in towns where the state owns much of the land. Local citizens and local governments grasp this, and understandably might not want the state to acquire any more land in their jurisdictions. Local opposition would make it harder to add new lands to the Forest Preserve in either the Adirondacks or the Catskills, no matter how important the lands are or how much the state wants to pay for them.

Done correctly, moving from property taxes to PILOT payments might work, but the new system must insure fairness to property owners and local governments. The current proposal does not do this. The state needs to examine the effects of such a change and should not rush into it as part of the budget process. Please contact your state senator (http://nysenate.gov), assemblyperson (http://nyassembly.gov), and Governor Cuomo (http://governor.ny.gov) to voice your opinion about this proposed change.