JAMESTOWN – Later this year, Jamestown city officials will be focusing their attention on the 2019 City Budget. In October Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi will present his executive spending plan to the Jamestown City Council, which will then have the opportunity to make any final adjustments before finalizing the spending plan by the end of November.
If previous recent years are any indication, the council won’t be able to make many, if any, adjustments. The mayor has typically presented a bare bones budget that leaves little for council members to work with. The past two years, the mayor has actually presented budgets that include a deficit, due to the city’s revenue not meeting fixed expenses. It’s taken bailouts from Albany the past two years to help balance the books.
About half of the city’s general budget relies on property taxes. The 2018 spending plan totals $35.7 million, with $16,012,000 covered by property taxes. This amount is known as the Tax Levy. The Tax Rate is factored by dividing the tax levy by the Total Taxable Property Value in the city (the value of all privately held properties that are not tax exempt) and then multiplying by 1000. For the 2018 the Tax Rate in Jamestown is $23.98 per thousand assessed value.
State law requires a Constitutional Taxing Limit that municipalities are not allowed to exceed and Jamestown is now at that taxing limit. Even if the mayor and city council wanted to increase taxes further they are unable to under state law. The Tax Levy could still be increased, but that would depend on an increase in taxable properties and/or values within the city. So with increased cost and little ability to raise additional tax revenue, the city will be looking at another tough budget season this fall.
HOW JAMESTOWN PROPERTY TAXES COMPARE TO REST OF STATE
According to 2011 census estimates, the average population of 58 upstate NY cities* was 35,751. Jamestown’s was 31,020.
According to data provided at the State Comptroller’s Office, the average Tax Levy for those 58 cities in 2017 (the most recent year data is available) was $17,905,000. Jamestown was actually lower at $15,844,000.
And the average full value tax rate in 2017 for those 58 cites was $12.50 per thousand. But Jamestown was $23.77 (second highest in NY State, second only to Binghamton).
Why the disparity? The total value of taxable properties has a lot to do with it. The average full value taxable properties for those 58 cities in 2017 was $1,868,246,000. Jamestown was nearly one third of that at $666,597,000.
If the taxable property of Jamestown was in proportion to the state average based on population, the number would be closer to $1,621,017,000. Using that number, the average full value tax rate for Jamestown in 2017 would have been $9.77 per thousand.
The main contributing factor to Jamestown’s low taxable property figure is the fact that residential property value is lower in Jamestown compared to other upstate communities. A $55,000 valued property in Jamestown could be twice that much in other communities in the Upstate New York, especially the further east you go.
A second contributing factor is the number of properties that are tax exempt. According to a report WRFA released earlier this year, total of $387,313,378 in properties withing the cit are exempt from property taxes, comprising 37 percent of all property value (the state average is 30 percent).
Although there are various other expense factors to consider as well – including robust benefits in labor contracts agreed to decades ago that now can not be altered without both sides agreeing to the changes – the property tax levy vs. property tax rate dilemma is also an important factor to consider on the revenue side when asking why tax rates are so high in Jamestown.
*The 58 cities include those that are not on Long Island, not New York City, and not counting Poughkeepsie because data was incomplete.