Monday, August 3, 2009

Fairview's New Tax-Exempt Myth

The Fairview Fire District has the highest fire tax rate in Dutchess County, and possibly the highest in New York State. (See Document #11 at my Fairview Fire Tax website.) The question is, “Why?”

Hint: It's not only because of Fairview's tax-exempt properties, and it's not even mainly because of Fairview's tax-exempt properties. How can that be? Read on.

Fairview's Old Tax-Exempt Myth

Fairview's old tax-exempt myth, widely believed until about a year ago, was that Fairview's fire taxes are so high because up to 80 percent of Fairview is tax exempt. That myth was busted by Document #1 at my Fairview Fire Tax website. That report shows that only 42 percent of Fairview's market value was tax exempt in 2008. For 2009, the figure is 47 percent, still less than half.

Fairview's New Tax-Exempt Myth

Since the old myth was busted, it now seems to have been replaced by a new myth: Fairview's fire taxes are so high because nearly half of Fairview is tax exempt. In other words, the reasoning is the same, but “up to 80 percent” is replaced by “nearly half”. This myth is stated as fact in a widely-circulated July 29, 2009, letter by New York State Assemblyman Joel Miller to Dutchess County Executive William Steinhaus. In a widely-circulated response to Miller's letter, Mark Bendel, Vice President of Fairview's Firefighter Union, appears to disagree with most of what Miller wrote. However, regarding Miller's assertion about the reason for Fairview's high taxes, Bendel writes, “You are absolutely right.” Thus, at least two public officials with divergent views believe the new myth. I suspect that many more officials believe likewise.

What's Wrong with Fairview's New Myth?

The best that can be said for the new myth is that it isn't all wrong. For a start, it is factually correct that nearly half the market value of Fairview is tax exempt. (No, it's not half the land that's tax exempt, as Miller claims. A quick glance at the map of Fairview on the Firefighter Union's website shows that only a quarter to a third of the land area (the yellow areas) is tax exempt. Anyway, it's the market value, not the land area, that matters for calculating fire tax rate.)

Secondly, it is true that with nearly half of Fairview's market value tax exempt, Fairview's fire tax rate is significantly higher than it would otherwise be. But Fairview's tax exempt properties are not the sole reason why Fairview's taxes are so high, and it is not clear that they are the most important reason. Document #12 at my Fairview Fire Tax website shows that even if all Fairview's tax exempt properties paid their “fair share” of fire tax, Fairview’s fire tax would still be the second highest in Dutchess County.

“Second highest fire tax rate in Dutchess County” does not sound to me like “problem solved”. It sounds more like “major problem”. Indeed, when Fairview's fire tax rate is adjusted in Document #12 for the assumption that all tax exempt properties pay their “fair share” of fire tax, the adjusted Fairview fire tax rate is still two and a half times greater than the weighted average fire tax rate for Dutchess County.

Here's another way of looking at it: Fairview's fire tax rate is 4.5 times higher than the average Dutchess County fire tax rate. Of that 4.5 times, only 1.8 times is accounted for by tax exempt properties. The other 2.5 times (these are multiplicative factors, not additive terms) must be attributed to other factors. So most of Fairview's high fire tax rate must be attributed to factors other than the existence of tax-exempt properties.

Why Is Fairview's Fire Tax So High?

So we're back to the original question: What factors other than tax exempt properties might account for Fairview's high fire tax? I don't really know for sure, but here's my guess: Fairview is a very small fire district. It has only one fire house. Nevertheless, Fairview still requires an accountant, a lawyer, a full-time secretary, a fire chief, and probably many fire-fighting resources I don't know about. Fairview cannot achieve the economies of scale that larger districts can. Knowledgeable readers are encouraged to post additional and more detailed factors.


  1. Secretary is not full-time - in this day and age no district can operate without legal advice - Especially Fairview - nor can a district operate without an accountant - granted the Fairview Treasurer need not be an accountant and Fairview's Accountant/Treasurer definitely needs oversight - Checks and Balances - on the other hand - it is very important to think outside the box here Bill - your use of the word MYTH is DISTURBING - Many don't understand your thought processes nor what you hope to accomplish with such terminology. Do you really think Fairview could operate without a Chief - Please!

  2. Secretary is not full-time

    I stand corrected. The FFD Secretary is only 3/4 time.

    Anonymous seems to misunderstand my meaning when I say, "Fairview still requires an accountant, a lawyer, ..., a fire chief, ..." My sentence was intended simply to mention facts. I don't think these are decisions that can be challenged, and I certainly was not challenging them.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.