In The News

June 2023

NYREJ Ask the Expert: Even in a stagnant market one thing increases – property taxes – by Brad and Sean Cronin

June 13, 2023

The value of your property has flattened, and rents are not increasing, yet your real estate taxes continue to escalate. The reason for this is because property taxes on Long Island are not solely tied to a property’s current market value. We’ve seen less activity in the commercial real estate market in terms of buying and selling recently. In such a situation, the market value of properties in many sectors has remained relatively stable over the same time period. However, these same properties have seen their property tax bills increase.

Property taxes are a crucial source of revenue for local governments. They fund budgets, infrastructure, as well as many critical services. If market values and corresponding assessed values are not increasing, but costs are rising, increased budgets still need to be filled by taxpayers. The only way to reconcile this shortfall in revenue is to increase the tax rate.

This inequity can be exacerbated depending on the school district where a property is located. It is the school district taxes within each county that are responsible for 60% to 70% of the property tax burden. The school district tax bill is a product of that district’s budget each year. Districts with large numbers of students, multiple schools, and specialized programs must pay large amounts each year to operate these schools. Those schools must also pay teachers, administrative and maintenance staff, benefits, and other typical costs. While Long Island taxes are one of the top complaints of residents, there is usually at least some solace taken by the fact that Long Island boasts some of the finest schools in the nation.

The location of commercial properties within a school district’s lines can be incredibly significant. If a particular school district has a large mall or a number of large commercial properties within its boundaries, the district’s home and business owners have the benefit of bigger taxpayers to help shoulder the tax burden. The dollar amounts paid by these large commercial properties often translate into a lower tax rate for smaller property owners. While the school district rate is the most significant rate, all local rates need to be reviewed.

There are other unique factors that may be particular to certain jurisdictions as well. There have been instances where a previously sizeable taxpayer, such as a power plant, has become functionally obsolete. That taxpayer may be in line for a reduction in their assessment that is so severe that the reduction in dollars from this property alone will leave a budget shortfall. The tax rate will then need to be increased in order achieve the same total budget amount required to make up the loss. This increase will be spread amongst all those in the district and it is an increase that is likely to be felt immediately and in the future.

Some jurisdictions may have properties off their tax roll entirely due to their tax-exempt status. While an area with development would appear to have a large tax base to spread the tax burden, if those properties are exempt, they may not contribute anything in taxes. Churches and other nonprofits that qualify for tax-exempt status under the Real Property Tax Law are those properties most often associated with tax exemptions, but other properties such as hospitals and buildings associated with their use can remove a large portion of a tax base as well.

The best solution to reducing tax rates is to encourage improvement and redevelopment of current properties and the development of new projects. Eliminating actual and perceived barriers to development will provide for new projects and additional taxpayers to contribute to the county’s coffers. Many jurisdictions on Long Island have encouraged development by offering property tax breaks as an inducement by way of an Industrial Development Agency (IDA). Some of the IDA agreements have been criticized for their minimal or reduced payments in regards to the tax burden. However, municipalities have shown that the long-term positive impact, beyond more jobs, economic growth, improved quality of life, etc., also includes significant contributions to the tax base when those properties become fully taxable.

When purchasing a property with high real estate taxes, the owner needs to determine whether the high tax obligation is the result of an overassessment or a high tax rate area. The difference is significant in terms of options that can be taken to provide tax relief, especially when a property’s value is not appreciating.

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