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Don’t count on taxing state land

August 11, 2011
By Jim LaValley

In response to Protect the Adirondacks Co-Chair Bob Harrison's letter about Paul Maroun's plan, it is unfortunate how quickly some forget, and unfortunate that some refuse to recognize the tenuous condition of our state and the problems the people of Tupper Lake confront.

Yes, the state pays taxes on land it owns in the Adirondacks, but that payment is voluntary, may not continue for long (remember Governor Paterson's 2009 attempt to cap property tax payments by the state) and, despite state law, might be less than the amount a private landowner would pay. The Adirondacks have become heavily dependent on state land taxes as a revenue source. According to the New York State Office of Real Property, the foregoing descriptions of the various mechanisms New York state uses to compensate its local governments has revealed a greater number of individual programs than is found in any other state, and that the present arrangements appear quite arbitrary. Which means future payments should not be relied upon.

A study showed that, in 2006, the state owned 75 percent of the land in Harrietstown (which is where most of Follensby is located) but that 75 percent represented only 27 percent of the assessed value of all such land. It owned 41 percent of the shoreline in that town, but that 41 percent only represented 20 percent of all shoreline assessed land value.

Paul Maroun was not talking about all properties in the Park. He was talking about one property, Follensby, and evaluating the relative merits of that one property being publicly or privately owned. If the state buys it, 14,000 acres will be added to a 3-million-acre state land holding (a 0.4 percent increase), the state will pay out $17 million or more that it cannot spare for more land and another lake in the 6-million-acre park, the state will have to manage the land, and IF the towns are lucky, the state may pay its fair share of property tax on it. That tax will be based on undeveloped land. On the other hand, if it is sold to a private buyer, the buyer probably will build an $8 million to $10 million house on the land, that house will generate substantial additional property taxes, the land still will be on the tax rolls, local people will be employed to build the camp and to manage and maintain it, and the state will have $17 million to use another day.

The state is in financial difficulty because its residents are in difficulty. People without jobs or confidence in the future do not pay as much in taxes or spend as much in stores. Governor Cuomo recognizes that and is trying to remedy the situation. He wants to spend money on economic development opportunities. The idea of a multi-purpose recreational trail will bring new money into the state, free up $17 million of state money and, most important, encourage job creation that will bring tourists and their money into the Tri-Lakes region and make Tupper Lake a greater tourist destination.

Tupper Lake does not need greater dependence on state funding. It needs investments that will create private jobs and additional private investment.

Mr. Harrison and Protect can quibble about Paul's language all they want. That will not help a bit if the state decides it cannot afford to continue to pay taxes on land it owns in the Park. If you don't believe that can happen, take a look at what is happening in Washington. Are you confident in the way OUR government is spending OUR money? If you are not confident, then is it ignorance or deception that makes PROTECT criticize Paul Maroun?


Jim LaValley is the owner and broker of LaValley Real Estate, based in Tupper Lake, where he also lives.



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