Your Property Taxes at Work

Property taxes are a source of funds for all our local institutions: Village, Library, Town, Board of Education, Fire Districts, and County. It is the largest source of funds for Village, Library, and Town, and would be for others if not for State and Federal payments. It is a tax on real property (or realty), which is defined as the land, waters, and trees and all “improvements” made to it, such as buildings, roads, and plantings. Personal property includes such things as cars and clothes.

For local governments, tax on real property is the only source of funds guaranteed to them by the New York State Constitution. All other sources must be approved by the legislature and governor, and could be revoked. Also, property taxes are a reliable source because the local boards set the amounts to be collected. By contrast, county sales tax is collected on money spent. Also, it is harder to hide property than it is to hide income. Property taxes go into general revenues, which are used to pay for everything.

Property tax has been collected since the earliest days of Franklin. Local government kept a record (roll) of who owned each real property, thus it was comparatively easy to tax those properties. Today, Delaware County maintains a graphical database at giswebhost.org/delaware/index.asp. This displays ownership (December 2006), size, maps, and arial photos (April 2001) of all land in the county. By contrast, the Federal government only began collecting income tax during World War I, when it needed additional money to pay for the war.

Money and Value

The annual amount to be raised through property tax, called the levy, is set by each local board. For 2007, the levies in millions are: Village, $0.08; Library, $0.02, Town, $0.99; Board of Education, $1.66; Fire Districts, $0.17; and County (Franklin levy), $0.88 – for a total of $3.72. The assessor determines how those tax burdens are to be distributed among the property holders in Franklin. He values each parcel in the Town, then totals them up – all that are not exempt. The tax burden for a property owner is proportional to the value of that property relative to the value of all taxable properties in Village, Town, Fire District, School District, or County. Library tax is collected from only those in the school district.

Not all property owners pay these taxes. By State Law, churches, schools, and charities pay no taxes on their $22 million of value in Franklin – roughly 10% of total. These organizations are thought to contribute to our community through their good works and so, need not contribute through property taxes. Similarly, by State Law, veterans and farmers are granted partial exemptions. By Franklin Town Law, veterans receive an additional partial exemption. In some towns, firemen and EMS responders receive partial exemptions. The STAR program gives a partial exemption from Board of Education property tax to all residents and an additional exemption to low-income elderly residents.

The Town of Franklin has approximately 81.6 square miles (52,200 acres) of land. But we are taxed on 84.0 square miles, meaning that some owners are paying for 2.4 square miles that don’t exist due to inaccurate surveys. Today, the land is divided into 2,265 tax parcels, to a total value, with improvements, of $212 million. Most of the tax burden is on residential parcels, which are half (50%) of the acreage and more that three quarters (77%) of the taxable value. The next largest categories are vacant and forested parcels with a third (33%) of the acreage but only an eight (12%) of the taxable value. Farms are 16% of the acreage and 5.1% of the value but are 3.7% of the taxable value due to exemptions – a small loss to the general revenue that makes a big difference to farmers with an average exemption of 38%. Franklin being a rural town, commercial and industrial parcels comprise only 0.5% of the acreage and 2% of the taxable value. While nonresidents of Franklin own almost half (49%) of the acreage, they pay only about a third (38%) of property taxes because more of their land is vacant or forested and their buildings are less valuable.

Assessor:

Originally all assessors were elected. Today, in Delaware County, all but a few towns have appointed assessors, as does Franklin. Appointed assessors, unlike elected assessors, do not have to live in the town where they work. In New York State, all appointed assessors serve for terms of six years that begin simultaneously throughout the state. Our Town Board last appointed our assessor in 2007. His current term runs from 1st October 2007 through 30th September 2013.

The Franklin assessor is Jim Basile, who began in 1996, replacing a board of three part-time elected assessors. Full-time appointed assessors must be certified by NYS to have taken the required initial course work, and must take 24 hours of continuing course work each year. Jim can be reached by mail at 12480 Co. Highway 21, Franklin, N.Y. 13775 or by e-mail at townoffranklin@frontiernet.net. His office is in the Town Garage at the intersection of County Rt 21 and State Rt. 357. Office hours are most Monday and Friday mornings and his phone number there is 829-5618. A website for the Town government is being designed, which could provide access to assessment data.

Assessment:

The last comprehensive assessment in Franklin was 11 years ago in 1997, and before that 23 years ago in 1974. At those times, throughout the Town each property is separately assessed at 100% of market value. (Currently there is no plan for another town-wide assessment until values are less volatile.) Between these comprehensive assessments, annual assessments determine the current average assessed value for the Town relative to market value – 79% in 2008. Individual property values are then adjusted so that none are greatly more or less than this. (There is the option to recalculate all values to 100%.) For 2008, real property was valued for its condition as of March 1st of this year, the Taxable Status Date. However it was valued as if sold on July 1st of last year (2007), the Valuation Date. As a result, when you receive your tax bill in December of 2008, it will be based on a property value almost a year and a half out of date.

Some local budgets are funded by taxes on properties from more than one town, such as those for school districts and the county. Because each town may assess properties as different percentages of the market value, there needs to be a way to equalize the burdens. New York State calculates an equalization rate for each town in the state.

Appeals:

On May 1st, our Assessor released the roll of tentative assessment values. Each value will be used in calculating that year’s property taxes unless the owner challenges it. This roll, a printout of almost 600 pages and some two inches thick, can be viewed at Assessor’s office or at Clerk’s offices in Franklin or Delhi. For a few weeks afterwards, an owner can discuss the value with our Assessor.

If the owner can not convince our Assessor to change that value, then the owner can appeal the value to the Board of Assessment Review, a board of three residents of Franklin who were appointed by the Town Board. It meets one afternoon each year – this year on 28th of May – known as Grievance Day. The tax payer should file Form RP-524 at least three business days before the meeting, so that the Board may prepare. (This form maybe obtained Town Clerk, Town Assessor, or State website.) Without that filing, the dispute may have to be adjourned until later if additional information is needed. In a typical year, a half dozen or so owners appeal, but following a comprehensive assessment there can be dozens.

After review by the BAR, the final roll is prepared and can be viewed at Clerks’ offices or website of NYS Office of Real Property Services (orps.state.ny.us). This year it was released on July 1st. If the owner still is unsatisfied, he or she may appeal again, this time to Small Claims Assessment Review by a State employee, which meets at the Town Garage 30 days after the final roll is released. The rejection letter from the Board of Assessment Review contains information on how to begin this second appeal.

Collection:

Property tax bills are mailed by the county at the end of December. You have until January 31st to pay our Tax Collector, Connie Young, without penalty. After that, each 1st of the month adds a 1% penalty. If the taxes are not paid by April 30th, Warrant Day, our Tax Collector forwards the list of debtors to the County. Delaware County which continues to add penalties on top of the 4% charged by the Town as it tries repeatedly to collect. The ultimate penalty is foreclosure, when a property is seized by the government and sold at auction.

Things to Come?

Currently there are 1,126 separate assessment districts that New York State has to keep track of and calculate a equalization rate for: 920 towns, 145 villages, and 61 cities. The State government would like to simplify by eliminating town and village assessors and having the county assessors do it all. In Delaware County, we would go from 20 assessors (19 towns and the Village of Stanford) to one in Delhi. Over half of the states use county assessment, although many of those are western states with low populations. If that happens here, we would lose any local oversight of assessments that comes from our Board appointing our Assessor and Board of Assessment Review. Also we could loose the convenience of making appeals at the Town Garage.

As the responsibilities of local government have grown, so have the resulting costs and property taxes. There are disadvantages to raising so much money through property taxes. This tax levy is relatively constant through ups and downs of the economy, which can hurt people whose income fluctuates. Instead, the revenue could come from income tax or other source, which would result in shifting the burden from some taxpayers to others.