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October 21, 2014
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Sullivan County’s property taxes - How bad are they?

KEN HILTON

The Tax Foundation figure, $59,336, places Sullivan County at 46th from the top in greatest “property tax effort,” i.e. “tax burden” of the 1,823 counties in the study. But the U.S. Census figure, $48,303, jumps the ranking to the top 10. In other words, our property tax effort /burden—our ability to pay—places Sullivan County among the top 1% of counties nationwide.

Looking at a report from The New York State Comptroller’s Office published in 2006 entitled “Property Taxes in New York State” we can compare the property taxes levied in all 62 NYS counties by the average personal income of each county. This is another way to gauge the affordability of taxes.

Seen this way, the top five NYS counties are all rural–Hamilton and Essex in the North Country, where the annual levy is over $85 per $1,000 of personal income, followed closely by Sullivan, Delaware and Ulster, which levy $70 to $85 per $1,000 of personal income. All 57 other counties in our state are lower—some, like Erie, Wyoming, Chemung, Tioga, Cayuga, Oneida and Jefferson, much lower, under $45 per $1,000 of personal income.

We all understand the need to finance our local governments, schools, libraries and other important government services, and appreciate how important these services are to us all. And we’re confident that our “very high” local property taxes are providing us better schools, libraries and other government services than places where taxes are “very low.”

But, as this article shows, Sullivan County property taxes are among the highest 1% in the entire United States in the only measure that counts–the ability of residents to afford them. We simply can’t continue to pay for local government services in this way. We’ve reached our limit.

Author’s note: Readers are encouraged to study the data cited throughout this article and additional data – information from the Tax Foundation, the U.S. Census, the New York State (NYS) comptroller’s office, and the Final Report of the NYS Tax Reform and Fairness Commission. All are easily accessed on-line or with the help of your local librarian.

[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about taxes in Sullivan County contributed by former Sullivan West School District Superintendent Ken Hilton. In future articles, he will discuss related issues, examining the services that are paid for by property taxes, looking at the impact of these taxes on our region and our residents, trying to understand why our property taxes are so comparatively high, and suggesting some possible solutions for lessening their burden.]