Within Mayor Sam Teresi's executive budget summary, the revelation of a further dip in assessed property citywide for 2012 and the ultimate request for a rise in the property tax rate are pages apart.
But they could have easily been placed on a single line, with an "equals" sign between them. Because, Teresi said, when it comes to paying one's share of taxes, there is no free lunch.
"My focus is addressing the real property tax law that allows for these exemptions," he said. "Keep in mind, all an exemption means is that somebody else is paying your property taxes for you."
COST OF EXEMPTIONS
However his summary pointed out a short list of local changes that put the city's overall taxable value into the red from the previous year.
In time for the 2012 tax levy, the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency has sponsored tax exemptions for the Wellman Building and to help spur the renovation of a 34,000 square-feet medical building on Sherman Street - properties totalling $1.8 million. The Resource Center was awarded full exemption for all its property in the city, worth about $1.7 million, which Teresi said has prepared no payment in lieu of taxes. There was also a "depreciation allowance" of $777,000 for National Grid utility parcels. Teresi's summary showed three other privately-owned properties in the city had their assessments slashed in the current year, totalling another $1 million loss.
"My focus is addressing the real property tax law that allows for these exemptions."
A further loss of $735,355 will occur due to recent expansions of the senior citizens' STAR exemption, which in 2010 permitted any household couple to qualify so long as one partner was 65, on top of the income restriction relaxed from $66,050 to $74,700.
Said Teresi: "If these seven exemptions didn't occur, we would actually booked a $3.3 million increase. The rest of the tax base grew and these seven exemptions nullified almost two-fold the rest of the growth in the taxable base."
Instead, the $2.8 million reduction in taxable property results in a $60,000 burden that the rest of the city taxpayers has to pick up in the new levy.
He added: "They are not doing anything wrong; that's the law. The point is every time somebody gets a tax break, somebody else has to pay for it."
RISE AND FALL
According to budget summaries from previous years, the city's full value assessment has generally appreciated over the course of the last three decades.
For the tax levy of 2010, the city could draw from properties worth $676,200,436. This continued a "modest uptick" which was observed in five out of six previous years. In 2004, full value assessment was as low as $595,014,566.
But for the 2011 levy, the city shed nearly $5 million, which the summary from that year identified as coming from an exemption granted to the BWB building, other court-ordered assessment reductions, fire-damaged homes and demolished properties.
At the same time last year, the upcoming tax levy was enlarged, in part to battle a marked increase in contribution to the state employee retirement system and other mandates. The city budget's demand for tax money grew by $108,000 to just over $14 million. For 2012 - facing an encore rise in unfunded mandates - Teresi proposes in his executive budget drawing about $14,420,000 in property taxes.
In 2010, the assessor's office reported 33.6 percent of the total property value in the city was exempt from local taxes - that is to say, one-third of Jamestown is untaxed.
Teresi said his pointing out the local beneficiaries of tax exemptions is not a mayoral indictment, but "a statement of realization that there needs to be a major overhaul of the New York State tax law."
"It needs to be brought up to current day and the current dynamics and needs," he said. "You can't continue to run local government with a property tax law that was put in place to serve local governments a generation or more ago."