Niagara Gazette

Bob Confer

February 3, 2014

CONFER: New York state could soon tax the scouts

Niagara Gazette — These are interesting times in New York, as we have a governor and a state legislature touting various reform packages that are expected to drop some tax rates after years of steady tax growth. It comes at a time when those same parties are testing the waters for even more public services such as universal pre-kindergarten. 

Decreased revenues and increased costs — they can’t exist concurrently. So, to make good on all their promises, state officials have been looking at some alternative sources through which to acquire capital. They are now in the developmental stages of allowing local jurisdictions to collect taxes from some properties owned by non-profits.

Long-held state law has said that such lands are off-limits to property and school taxes. This was put into place because legislators believed at the time — and rightly so — that there was a trade-off of pricey revenues versus priceless benefit: Non-profits provide more to the community than what could ever be gleaned from the taxes they would pay.

The language of the potential replacement concept, one being developed by members of the governor’s tax commission in conjunction with the Legislature, would cap the number of acres that could be considered tax exempt at 400 acres per organization.

It’s a take-off on a bill that was run through both houses in recent years. The old version focused solely on all unimproved properties held by non-profits. The thinking was that property is being used by those organizations only if it supports facilities and other improvements.

That bill was once passed by the Senate but never made it out of committee in the Assembly. The Assembly turned it down because it would affect thousands of non-profits across the state, including those comparable to Habitat for Humanity that might hold 20 unimproved lots in a city all awaiting construction. Had the bill passed, all of those properties would have been taxed.

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