December 18, 2008, Albany Times Union: Tax Cap Eyed for Forest Lands

Tax cap eyed for forest lands
Plan could hurt Adirondack towns that rely on state payments for property taxes
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By BRIAN NEARING, Staff writer
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First published: Thursday, December 18, 2008
ALBANY ? If local property taxes in the Adirondacks and Catskills climb in the next year the state won't pay more on its 3 million acres of forever-wild lands, under a cost-cutting measure in Gov. David Paterson's proposed 2009-10 budget.

The governor's proposed tax cap would be a first for the state, which started paying local property taxes on state Forest Preserve lands in the Adirondacks in 1886. These payments are key revenue for local governments in areas with large amounts of state land.

Paterson wants the Legislature to approve capping state tax payments on such land at 2008 levels. In the future, any portion of increasing town, county or school property taxes not paid by the state would have to be made up through higher taxes on remaining property owners.

"The governor's proposal is shortsighted and unfair to all local taxpayers," said Peter Bauer, executive director of the Fund for Lake George. "It has been a point of pride among Adirondack environmental advocates that the state, unlike the federal government, pays its full share of taxes to local governments and school districts throughout the Adirondack and Catskill Parks."

Matt Anderson, a Budget Division spokesman, said the tax cap is "consistent" with the governor's plan to freeze aid to local governments during the fiscal crisis.

The state Forest Preserve includes 2.7 million acres in the Adirondack Park and 288,000 acres in the Catskill Park.

This year, the state paid $69 million in local taxes on forest preserve lands, Bauer said. Around Lake George, Bolton, Dresden and Fort Ann each receive over $1 million annually in combined county, town and school taxes from the state.

Many other Adirondack communitiwes receive higher payments due to larger acreages of Forest Preserve within town boundaries. In Warren County, Johnsburg has roughly half its land in the preserve and relies on state taxes for about one-fifth of its budget.

"A cap will harm communities and school districts with large amounts of forest preserve as other tax payers within these jurisdictions will inevitably be called upon to pay an inequitable share of local taxes as future costs increase for school costs and various local governmental services and support," Bauer said.

Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or [email protected].

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