Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a scheme to lessen the amount the state pays on its land in the Adirondacks and Catskills, and its passage would hurt many communities in our region.
The relationship between local landowners and New York over property purchases in the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park was bitter and divisive for many years.
As a means to protect our glorious regional environment, the state has, for decades, purchased land to protect it as either "forever wild" or with limited public access and use.
Municipalities had objected to losing tax revenue, as state land is normally tax exempt. And people who lived in the communities felt the state's land purchases and Adirondack Park Agency laws were crimping their opportunities for livelihood and recreational access.
The whole situation was helped immensely by a more moderate APA approach and by the state agreeing to pay taxes on its property within the park, with the amount determined by market value.
But now, Cuomo wants all state land to be tax exempt, with payments in lieu of taxes made. And Albany would say just how much it will pay to local taxing entities.
The Adirondack Park is a sprawling area dotted with small population bases; the residents can't afford to carry the tax burden for large swaths of state land.
Cuomo's proposal drew immediate outcry from municipalities and school districts, especially in Essex County, which has a large amount of state land within its territory.
Essex County Manager Daniel Palmer said the change would be “a horrendous shock to local taxpayers.”
County Real Property Tax Service Director Charli Lewis did some calculations and figured out that if Cuomo’s plan were in place now, an additional $185,300 in taxes would shift onto local property owners.
Westport Town Supervisor Michael Tyler summed the situation up perfectly, saying of the state: “They want to take purchase of a bunch of land up here in the Adirondacks, and now they don’t want to pay taxes on any of it."
If Cuomo's plan is enacted, Tyler said, “There’s going to be nobody up here that can afford to live here anymore."
Sen. Betty Little and Assemblymen Billy Jones and Dan Stec obviously don’t support the proposal, and they must fight hard to prevent its passage, making sure the locally important message gets to all state legislators.
Environmental groups also oppose it, haunted by memories of the intense friction that used to exist between property owners and the state over land purchases, which still bubbles up at times now.
“We are worried that the proposed changes will result in lost revenue to communities and school districts that host Forest Preserve lands," Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway said. "That would be harmful to the park’s communities right away and would weaken support for the Forest Preserve long term.”
Cuomo sees himself as a friend to the North Country, and most here agree that he has been generous with funding and other support.
But this proposal would certainly strain that friendship, and we urge the governor to drop it in light of the unique situation in the Adirondacks.