A Taxing Problem: Tax exemptions

It's nothing more than 4 pages of titles and numbers. The "S495 Exemption Impact Report" was filed along with the 2009 Onondaga County budget by order of New York State for the first time this year. It represents an astonishing finding; that almost 25 percent of all the property value in Onondaga County has some sort of tax exemption.

Though that statistic may seem astonishing, County Property Tax Director Karen Carney says, "I don't think that you would find that that unusual for other counties."

The total taxable value of all the land, homes and buildings in Onondaga County comes to $32-billion 370-million- 571-thousand- 632 dollars. Of that amount, $7-billion-974-million 452-thousand 440 dollars is tax exempt. It amounts to 24-point-6 percent of the county's property value .

When Action News, brought the report to the attention of County Comptroller Bob Antonacci, he decided to call for a spot check of local tax rolls which may lead to a full blown audit. "If you're taking a county exemption," says Antonacci, "my position is that's something we certainly have the right to look at."

About half of the tax exempt property are municipally owned, government buildings, schools, firehouses and other land and facilities.. Syracuse University has a lot of tax free property, and a great deal of the exemptions belong to not for profit organizations and private businesses. 31-thousand 300 homeowners get a partial tax break because they qualify as veterans, disabled or elderly who meet a household income limit of under 27-thousand a year.

Carney says "It's helping business, giving them an incentive to expand, gives the farmer an incentive to continue to keep his land in production, helping those that may need some assistance, your low income seniors, your disabled, providing community services, your rescue missions, salvation army, churches."

But she concedes that the large number of exemptions is a burden on other taxpayers. "there's no question that it affects and impacts the tax base." says Carney.

A case in point, the "House At 807". The home for senior citizens on Oswego street in the Village of Liverpool was renovated with state grants. It's run by a not for profit organizations which took the house, valued at more than $180-thousand dollars off the tax rolls. According to Board member Norm Andrzejewski, "If this were a taxable entity, our monthly rates would go up. We charge $950 for room and board per month which is half the going rate."

Lysander town Assessor Theresa Golden says many agricultural and other tax exemptions are out of her hands because they were created by act of the State Legislature. She's glad counties are now required to compile and calculate all the exemptions into one report for all to see. "The new law that they passed was meant to be an eye opening experience for not only property owners but hopefully people that pass these exemptions with a rubber stamp with very little thought to what they're actually doing."