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When I try to make sense of property taxes my head explodes.  Because, like head explosions, the things that influence property taxes are messy.  Theoretically as a community grows there are more people to share the burden of property taxes, so nobody ends up paying more.  That assumes that consumption of services grows proportionally to the rising population.  If that really happened it seems fair.  But there is a lot more that goes into that equation, and in real dollars and cents every year taxes go up and wallets get emptier.

Take the Lansing schools, for example.  Some people have worried that a rising population in the town will mean that property taxpayers will have to pay for more teachers and even bear the cost of building new classrooms.  This concern was aired during public hearings on the Milton Meadows project, that brought affordable housing to the Lansing town center.  Not long ago a town official reported that a number of the new residents at Milton Meadows had moved from elsewhere in Lansing, and, therefore, their children would not raise the student population.  However, that doesn't take into consideration new families who will back-fill the residences that the now Milton Meadows residents used to live in.  The student population has, in fact, been rising.

How many times have you heard people say that the number one reason they moved to Lansing is the quality and community engagement of the schools?  So we want more people to help split up that tax burden, and to get them we need an incentive to move here.  The school district is the number one incentive.  That means more families and more students, and, yes, more teachers and classrooms.

So the successful incentive cancels out any tax benefit unless the town exclusively attracts elders and couples with vasectomies who will pay property taxes but not place more children in the schools.  And of course good schools are not an incentive for those demographics.  It's a catch-22, which is defined as "a dilemma from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions."

Then there's the piece about one taxing authority lowering its tax rate.  That certainly goes toward fewer dollars per taxpayer if all the taxing authorities do it.  But when the Town, for example, comes out with the same or a lower tax rate your overall tax bill for the county, town, (village), school, fire, and library districts goes up because the others have the same or higher tax rates.  The biggest one is the school tax, with the county tax coming in second.  Nothing the town can do to its tax rate is going to make a dent in those two.

So, municipal officials say, the best growth to attract is business growth.  Businesses pay more and use fewer services, which lowers taxes for residents.  But as we have seen with the business area growing around Terpening Corners (Crossroads, Lansing Market, etc.) business is only good if there are enough people to sustain it.  It has been no secret that Lansing Market has had a hard time getting on its financial feet, despite studies that showed a community this size could sustain it.  New residents at Milton Meadows and other developments in the planning or realization stages will improve matters for local businesses.  But then you have more people using more municipal and school services, and there we are again.

And then there is the annual overall assessment.  As it rises tax rates should go down, which should be a boon to existing homeowners.  But not when the assessment on their home goes up.

New York and Tompkins County are expensive places, and that is not going to change.  Another catch-22 is that while local municipalities are trying to attract new residents, the state is hemorrhaging citizens.  The U.S. Census Bureau reported close to 77,000 people left New York State in 2019. It was the fourth annual decline after a five year period in which the state population had been growing.  It amounted to a 0.4% drop in population, the largest in any state.

Making matters worse is our Governor's current 'Executive Budget' proposals to off-load expenses from state income tax to local property taxes.  Our county legislators have been lobbying in Albany to roll back some of the Governor's proposed tax shifts, especially very expensive Medicaid costs.  Many argue that income taxes are a fairer way to pay for things because as taxes rise retired, elderly people on fixed incomes have dwindling means to pay them, forcing some people out of town whose families have lived here for many generations.

Despite any cheery, optimistic projections -- growth has made up for the power plant loss, or is close to doing so... sales tax revenues are up... those kinds of things -- property taxes continue to go up.  And up.

And up.

(Sound of head exploding)

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