SCHENECTADY COUNTY Rotterdam property owners may find a bit of an unwanted surprise when they open their county tax bills this month.
For the second year in a row, Rotterdam got the largest tax rate increase among the county’s six towns when county legislators set the 2013 schedule late last month: from $6.43 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2012 to $7.04 in 2013, an increase of roughly 9.5 percent.
Taxpayers across the Mohawk River in Glenville didn’t fare much better. Their tax rate jumped from $6.86 per $1,000 to $7.44, a jump of about 8.5 percent.
By the numbers
Property tax rates for Schenectady County’s five towns and the city of Schenectady in 2012 and 2013, and the percentage increase:
Duanesburg $19.10 $20.62 8.0%
Glenville $6.86 $7.44 8.5%
Niskayuna $6.19 $6.32 2.1%
Princetown $18.64 $20.10 7.8%
Rotterdam $6.43 $7.04 9.5%
Schenectady $6.68 $7.14 6.9%
In fact, all of Schenectady County’s towns saw an increase in the tax rate resulting from the 5.9 percent jump in the 2013 tax levy approved by legislators in October. Niskayuna’s was the smallest, at just 2.1 percent.
Minority Leader James Buhrmaster, the Legislature’s lone Republican, cast the only vote against approving the tax rates last month. He said his fellow legislators and the Democratic majority signed off on the large increases much in the same way they adopted a large tax hike contained in the 2013 budget.
“It was in lock step and they didn’t question it,” he said Thursday. “How many times can we keep increasing taxes like this before someone starts screaming?”
Majority Leader Gary Hughes said the disparity between the tax rates set by the Legislature and the tax levy reflect changes in the property assessment and equalization rate throughout the county. He said legislators have no control over fluctuations in real property assessments recorded in the various municipalities.
“When you do get down to the municipal level, it’s possible and quite likely the 5.9 percent will change in a number of ways,” he said.
The 2013 rates are in contrast to the 2012 rates, when both Princetown and Duanesburg realized a slight decrease and the other towns saw only minor increases; Rotterdam’s increase of 1.5 percent from 2011 to 2012 was the only rate that exceeded 1 percentage point.
Buhrmaster, who lives in Glenville, said he’s already received several complaints from residents seeing this year’s tax increase. He said many simply want to understand why the rates are growing and are dismayed by the lack of supporting details with their tax bills.
But Buhrmaster also believes the almost routinely increasing rates should serve as a wake-up call for residents to lobby harder for cuts and elect legislators who will pledge to keep the tax levy from increasing. He said property owners need to be aware of the percentage increase they’ve faced in the tax rate so they realize how much more they’re paying each year.
“The percentage that is going up should be what is bothering people because it’s going up every year,” he said.
Legislators were originally contemplating a 2013 budget with a tax levy increase of 7.49 percent. They ultimately adopted a $295.48 million spending plan that lowered the tax levy increase to 5.9 percent, but relies on more than $6 million in fund balance and will require the Schenectady County Public Library to reduce its expenses by $250,000 next year.
The Legislature’s majority blamed the increases largely on state mandates. Hughes faulted Buhrmaster for failing to bring any reasonable ideas to the table to help prevent the tax levy increase.
“We never heard a word from him during budget review sessions,” he said, “It’s really easy to be the minority. But it’s kind of tough to be the majority because you actually have to lead.”