Friday, October 9, 2009

East Fishkill Might See 9 Percent Tax Increase

A story in today's Poughkeepsie Journal by reporter Michael Woyton (print edition) was headlined “East Fishkill property tax could drop a bit in 2010”. The subtitle says, "Town proposes 1.3% less spending, 8.87% lower homeowner levy". The web edition's headline is “East Fishkill might see slight tax decrease”. Sounds like everything is down. Great news for property taxpayers in these difficult economic times, right?

Wrong! The real story, buried in the tenth paragraph, is that the tax rate would increase by 8.87 percent (essentially 9 percent). And the tax rate is all that matters. That's why this blog post says “9 percent tax increase”. All those other statistics are just spin, intended by East Fishkill Town Supervisor John Hickman to mislead the public into thinking that things aren't as bad as they really are.

East Fishkill is now the fifth local jurisdiction I've commented on in recent weeks for which the Poughkeepsie Journal's stories on property taxes are misleading. As I predicted in The Dirty Little Secret of Property Taxes, it is in the interests of local government officials to downplay the tax rate increases in times of falling property values. And for at least the fifth time, a Poughkeepsie Journal reporter fell for — or has gone along with — this deception. Most readers, especially those that only read the headlines, won't recognize the true story either.

To Hickman's credit, he clearly explained why tax bills are slightly decreasing even though the tax rate is increasing 9 percent: It's primarily because taxpayer wealth, as measured by property values in East Fishkill, has decreased by 8.3 percent ($500,000 house is now worth $458,650). A considerably less important reason is that the tax levy shows a slight (under 0.1 percent) decrease. These facts are exactly in line with my predictions, as discussed in detail in The Dirty Little Secret of Property Taxes.

In my view, readers of the Poughkeepsie Journal are not well served by stories like this which simply parrot the PR of local government officials.

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