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Land tax freeze remains in place

ESSEX COUNTY - Representatives at both the state and county levels are making their protests known as an initiative to freeze state payments on state-owned forest preserve land remains under consideration.

The plan, part of Gov. David Paterson's proposed executive budget, would cap property tax payments made by the state to local government for state-owned land, freezing payments at 2008 levels regardless of any increases in assessed value.

Despite a strong outcry from Adirondack residents, government representatives, and environmental protection groups, Paterson did not mention the proposal among the changes to his budget announced Jan. 15.

"Albany has not gotten the message, which I find amazing given the broad coalition of Adirondack interests opposing this ill-conceived proposal," said state Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury). "What is being proposed is just so patently unfair and would establish such a terrible precedent that I am really surprised it was not eliminated from the executive budget."

Little said that if adopted, the proposed tax cap would cripple Adirondack towns like Henrietta which is over 95 percent state owned. Most of the revenue generated in such towns is a result of the state paying taxes on the property within the municipality.

In Essex County, towns hardest hit would be Newcomb, Minerva, North Hudson, Schroon, St. Armand, North Elba, Keene, and Wilmington. Each of those towns has a majority of its land owned by the state. In Newcomb, that land represents over 75 percent of the town's total assessed value.

Collectively, the state owns more than 46 percent of the total real property in Essex County, which accounts for 18.5 percent of the county's total assessed value. State officials argue that the property tax cap is necessary in order to reduce the cost of government expenditures. What several town supervisors find most outrageous, though, is how, in addition to the proposed tax freeze and state aid cuts for schools, the state continues to set aside money to purchase Adirondack land for conservation purposes.

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