Schenectady, Niskayuna top Empire Center tax list

A home for sale on Niskayuna's Grand Boulevard in 2014. (Marc Schultz)A home for sale on Niskayuna's Grand Boulevard in 2014. (Marc Schultz)

CAPITAL REGION — If you own property in Schenectady, you have the highest total tax rate in the Capital Region, but if you live next door in Niskayuna, you’ll have the region’s highest tax bill.

In the city, the total tax rate — city, county and school taxes combined — is $51.50 per $1,000 full value. The median home value is $112,900, meaning the total annual median tax bill in 2017 was $5,814, which is nowhere near the highest combined tax bill in the region. By that measure, the city isn’t even in the top 20.

When it comes to what people actually pay each year, Niskayuna tops the list. The total tax rate there is only $32.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, but the median home value is $260,900, so that rate yields the Capital Region’s highest median tax bill: $8,480. That’s for homes in the Niskayuna Central School District; for Niskayuna homes in the South Colonie district, the median bill is $8,054.

The tax details were contained in a report released Monday by the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy, which compared taxes in communities across New York, using data from the state comptroller’s office.

“The ‘all-in’ property tax bill is often a key factor in locational decisions by individuals and businesses,” said the center’s executive director, Timothy Hoefer, in an introduction. “In addition, the tax data point to an inverse relationship between effective tax rates and property values, with high effective rates often correlating to low median home values.”

In many suburban communities in the Capital Region, school district taxes are two-thirds or more of residents’ annual taxes — something city, town and village officials frequently point out when they hear tax complaints.

In Niskayuna, the school rate was $19.97 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The county rate was $7.67 and the town rate was $4.86, for a total rate of $32.50, according to the report.

Niskayuna Central School District spokesman Matt Leon said the district hasn’t had a chance to analyze the report, but he noted that over the past five years the district’s annual school tax levy increase averaged less than 1.5 percent.

“We will keep working to control costs whenever possible, while keeping the quality of education high and delivering a strong return on investment for our schools,” Leon said.

The Empire Center issues the report periodically, and having the highest combined tax rate is a position Schenectady has been in before.

Of the $51.50 tax rate, the Empire Center said $27.71 was for schools, $16.12 for the city, and $7.67  for Schenectady County.

Schenectady schools Superintendent Larry Spring has repeatedly argued the City School District is shortchanged on state aid, forcing the low-wealth district to have high property taxes. Mayor Gary McCarthy has made similar arguments about the city’s finances.

Hoefer said the new report and online analysis tool allow people to compare their communities to others of similar size or demographics so they can ask questions about why one has higher property taxes than another.

“For me, it’s a tool for you, the taxpayer, to ask what drives the spending,” Hoefer said.

In median effective tax rates in the Capital Region, the second-highest rate after Schenectady’s $51.50 per $1,000 was the village of Scotia, which came in at $43.63, with a median home value of $137,400. That yields a median tax bill of $5,995. Rotterdam ranked fifth, with a median tax rate of $40.77 and a median tax bill of $6,785.

In the Mohawk Valley, the village of Fort Plain in western Montgomery County ranked third, with an effective rate of $51.85. The median home value there is $67,500, meaning the median tax bill is $3,500. In fourth place was Gloversville, with a median rate of $51.38 and median home value of $76,500. That means the median tax bill in Gloversville was $3,931.

The report notes that New York in general has some of the highest property taxes in the country, and it also highlights how much property taxes vary by region. New York City and Nassau counties were excluded from the list because they impose different tax rates depending on the class of property.

In the Long Island village of Lloyd Harbor, the median home value is nearly $1.4 million, and the median bill was $39,508 last year — the highest annual bills in the state. In Tuxedo Park in Orange County the median bill was $34,808. Tax bills of $24,000 or higher are also common in Westchester County.

The report also ranks the places with the lowest effective tax rates. The best place to live in the Capital Region, by that measure alone, is the tiny Great Sacandaga Lake community of Edinburg in Saratoga County, where a median $224,400 home value and a $9.01 tax rate mean the median tax bill was just $2,022.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.