Agriculture in Orleans uses too much land, pays too little in taxes

Posted 19 May 2016 at 12:00 am


I find the article on falling numbers of new home construction in Orleans County to be full of conjecture and inaccuracies.

The large reductions in the workforce of major Rochester-area employers occurred long before 2003. This may have begun the exodus of new or existing home buyers, but what is the cause since 2003? In a word, it is the unreasonably high tax structure in this county and all over New York State.

Not long ago, a study found the Orleans County real estate taxes to be the highest in the entire United States! How did we manage to achieve that high honor? Until something is done in Orleans County and our state government to reduce the huge disparity between residential and agricultural real estate taxes, this exodus will continue unabated.

More than 150,000 New York State residents have been leaving the state each year for as long as I can remember, mostly from Upstate and Western New York, so much so that we have lost several Congressional Districts (based on population.) Of course, this loss is also reflected in our declining school student numbers. Older retirees who have lived here their entire lives are leaving because they cannot afford to live in their homes anymore.

Assemblyman Hawley is concerned that the only people moving into New York State are those seeking immediate public assistance payments and has introduced a bill requiring a 90-day residency requirement.

The article stressed the problem of vacant houses and I agree. One can drive around any area and find the largest number of vacant and obviously abandoned homes ever seen in my entire lifetime. EDA Chairman Hendel spoke of the resistance to local property maintenance enforcement.

People either do not have the money to maintain their homes properly or are afraid that any improvements will increase their taxes. If anyone actually believes the new STAMP workers will want to move into Orleans County I think they are dreaming. Why would they want to move into the highest-tax rate county in America?

Recently, the Hub published an article on newly-increased agricultural property assessments, particularly in the Town of Carlton. Personally, I think this was long overdue.

Farmers who were buying land for between $5,000-$8,000 an acre were complaining because their per acre assessments increased from $1,200 to $2,400 per acre -give me a break! When these agricultural assessments are so low, who do you think is making up the difference? Residential property owners, that’s who.

And when these tax rates are so low, they are gobbling up every square inch of land they can get their hands on, dispelling the article’s statement “the county still has lots of open affordable land that could be used for new housing.” Please show me some. We even see wetlands bulldozed right up to the stream bed so more corn can be planted. Whatever happened to “acceptable conservation practices?” I have been told the conservation enforcement in this area is “pitifully lax.”

Lest one think I have an “ax to grind” against agriculture, you are wrong. I grew up on a family farm and have been closely associated with agriculture my entire life. I hate what I see as farming has evolved from a “way of life” to a big mega-business corporate structure mowing down anything which stands in its path.

In an equitable real estate tax structure, everyone should be paying their fair share. Why is agriculture the only business in New York State getting a “free ride?” When is “enough” really enough?

Why do you have one of the largest dairy farms in Orleans County more than doubling its herd to 3,000 cows when the price of milk is off 37 percent? Something is drastically wrong here. When the local Amish farmers can make a respectable living off 150 acres, why is it necessary to farm 10,000, 12,000 or even 15,000 acres? Could it be called “GREED?”

Wayne Lemcke