Lack of state aid is why we’re among tax oppressed

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 November 2014 at 12:00 am


Photo by Tom Rivers – This photo shows downtown Albion after a storm barreled through the area in June. Albion is among the top 100 jurisdictions for highest tax rates out of 3,663 in the state.

Orleans Hub reported on Tuesday that several of our local municipalities are among the most tax oppressed in the State of New York. Medina tops the local communities and nearly all of 3,663 jurisdictions in the state for highest tax rate. (Click here to see that article.)

Only Wellsville and a few other Allegany County towns and villages top the $54.13 combined tax rate in Medina. That ranked 13th in the state, according to the Empire Center’s study.

Medina’s overall rate includes $25.63 for the school district, $15.52 for the village, $9.63 for county and either $3.35 for Town of Shelby, according to 2012 data.

Other Orleans communities are close behind Medina. The Village of Holley is 50th overall at $49.98 – $24.94 for school, $12.99 for village, $9.65 for county and $2.40 for town of Murray.

The Village of Albion is 77th at $47.77 – $18.06 for school, $15.92 for village, $9.60 for county and $4.19 for town of Gaines.

You see the report and it’s easy to point fingers at the villages, to blame the village officials for the crushing tax burden in these locales.

But it’s not the villages’ fault. New York gives the villages very little in state aid, while showering cities with funds. Cities get the lion’s share of Aid and Incentives to Municipalities, state funds designed to help preserve the population cores by helping to maintain aging infrastructure and keep up with critical services such as police and fire protection.

Villages have these same issues, but the state turns its back on these communities. To keep police officers, patch pot holes and maintain parks and cemeteries, villages have to pass nearly the full cost onto to village taxpayers. That’s why these tax rates in the villages are so sky high.

Villages get about $5 to $10 in per capita AIM funding. For Medina, that totaled $45,523 for 6,065 people or $7.51 a person. That is far cry from what a similar size city gets. Consider the City of Sherrill in Oneida County. That city actually has half the people as Medina. The city gets $372,689 in state funding or $121.35 a person. Sherill’s combined tax rates are only $32.66, more than $20 less than in Medina.

Cities also have the added benefit of being spared a town tax. Villages not only are deprived of state aid, but a village resident gets double taxed by towns. In Orleans County, if you live in a village you will pay a double-digit tax rate and then pay about $3 to $4 more per $1,000 of assessed property to a town.

It is a crushing burden. These villages are at a major competitive disadvantage in attracting and keeping residents and businesses. Move to a small city or out in the country and you’ll pay far less in taxes.

Consider the City of Batavia. That city of 15,465 receives $1,750,975 in state funding. That helps drive down the city tax rate to $10.52 per $1,000, about half of the combined village/town rates in Medina, Albion and Holley – our local villages that are high on the tax oppressed list.

The bigger the city, the more generous the state is in helping those municipalities provide services and ease the tax burden for residents, who are often senior citizens and lower-income people – the same situation in villages.

Consider the City of Buffalo, which receives a whopping $161.3 million in state AIM funding for 261,310 residents or $617.22 per person. Buffalo’s combined tax rate is only $27.74 per $1,000 of assessed property, about half the rate in Medina.

I fully support the aid for cities, but the state needs to direct similar funding to the villages, or else they will continue to see property values fall and tax rates jump, creating a vicious spiral.

Our local officials need to sound the alarm about this situation and demand equitable treatment from the state. By propping up the cities, the state is picking winners and losers. It’s particularly destructive in small rural counties like Orleans and Allegany where there are no cities. These counties don’t have any population centers with reasonable taxes. Every village is a high-tax environment.

That ultimately chases businesses outside the county, which results in fewer jobs and retail establishments. That means less local sales tax for the counties, which further drives up our property taxes. The vicious cycle continues, with no end in sight unless that state can be fair with the AIM dollars.