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May 25, 2015
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Why are property taxes so darned high? The third in a series of articles

Ken Hilton

Perhaps the fairest way to judge the burden of property taxes is to compare those taxes to the incomes of the taxpayers. Judged this way, we find that the counties in New York State with the greatest local property tax burdens are Essex, Hamilton, Sullivan, Delaware and Ulster—all rural counties with sparse populations.

In densely populated areas, we might find hundreds of homeowners (taxpayers) living along a mile-long stretch of highway. But in sparsely-populated rural areas like ours, there might be only a few. A major cost for local governments is the maintenance of roads, and they levy taxes to pay for these costs. In highly populated communities those costs are shared by many taxpayers; but in rural communities, like ours, those costs are borne by only a few. Consequently, property tax rates are higher. We’re captives of our geography and demography.

There are several additional reasons Sullivan County’s property taxes are so high, and as this series of articles continues next month, I’ll be looking at tax exemptions, an insufficient commercial tax base, and our state’s large number of governmental units.