Sunday, April 18, 2010

Poughkeepsie Journal Fails Its Readers – Again

Once again, the Poughkeepsie Journal fails to properly inform its readers about property taxes.  There is an important story about property taxes, but the Journal fails to tell it. 

Today's front page feature story, Property taxes weigh heavily in Dutchess, by Joseph Spector, is full of numbers and statistics, but it fails to mention – fails to even mention – any tax rates or changes in tax rates.  This is just like having a story about high sales taxes and never mentioning any sales tax rates or changes in sales tax rates.  It makes it impossible for readers to understand what’s going on. 

School Tax Report is Misleading

As just one example of misleading reporting, the story refers to school officials saying that “the school-tax-levy increase in the current school year was 1.85 percent, the lowest in at least 10 years.”  This sounds like a bright spot in the tax picture – but it is not.  Dutchess County property values were down 5 percent in the current school year.  Therefore, school tax rates are up approximately 7 percent.  In other words, property owners paid 7 percent more of their wealth – as measured by the market value of their properties – to schools this year than they did last year.  Not a bright spot at all.

School officials aren’t stupid.  They deliberately talk about tax levy increases now, because that makes things sound better than they really are.  But the Poughkeepsie Journal has a duty to expose this deception by showing how school tax rates were stable in the past but are increasing now.  It's the tax rate that allows you to make a fair comparison with the past.

Comparison to Westchester is Misleading

Here’s a second example of misleading reporting:  The story asserts that “Westchester and Nassau counties … have the highest taxes in the state”.   It sounds like these counties have it worse than Dutchess.  But the Journal fails to point out that Westchester and Nassau also have the highest property values in the state.  If your property’s market value is greater, of course you’re going to pay more taxes!  Saying it another way, if you can afford to buy a house in Westchester, you can afford to pay the taxes.  But your tax rate could be the same as or lower then in Dutchess.  There’s no way to tell from this story.  It's the tax rate that allows you to make a fair comparison.

Journal Misses the Real Story

People belly-ached about property taxes ten years ago, and they're bellyaching about property taxes now.  The difference is that up until two years ago, property tax rates have been relatively stable, whereas now property tax rates are dramatically increasing.  Because property tax rates are starting to increase significantly for the first time in many years, complaints about property taxes are much more justifiable now than they were in the past.  This is the real story.  It's too bad the Journal hasn't told it.

Many of my previous Truth in Taxing posts to this blog describe a pattern of failure by the Poughkeepsie Journal to properly inform its readers about property tax issues.  To view these posts, click on label “Truth in Taxing” in the right column of this page.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Big Three Fire Districts of Dutchess County

Of the 30 fire districts and fire protection districts in Dutchess County, I call the Arlington, LaGrange, and Fairview fire districts the big three fire districts. They are the big three in two different ways:
  • They have the three highest tax levies.
  • They have the three highest tax rates.
I've just posted a report to my sister website Fairview Fire Tax about the big three.  This report compiles current and retrospective information about tax levies, tax rates, market values, and exempt percents for the big three fire districts into a series of 24 bar charts, 8 tables, and 4 pie charts, with analytical commentary.  Bar charts include a ten-year history of market values, tax levies, and tax rates, and annual changes in these values.  Some highlights of the report:
  • Fairview has the highest fire tax rate in Dutchess County.  However, if fire taxes were billed universally – to tax exempt as well as to taxable properties – Arlington would have the highest universal tax rate, with Fairview second.  Economies of scale should have favored Arlington’s universal tax rate, since Arlington is four times larger than Fairview, both in total market value and number of fire stations.  Yet Arlington’s universal fire tax rate is 30 percent greater than Fairview’s.
  • From 2001 to 2008, the tax rates of all the big three fire districts have decreased.  With the economic meltdown, 2009 and 2010 tax rates in Arlington and LaGrange (but not Fairview) have significantly increased. In 2008, Fairview’s tax rate was 61 percent larger than Arlington’s, but in 2010, Fairview’s tax rate has become only 20 percent larger than Arlington’s.
  • Nearly half of Fairview’s market value is tax exempt. Fairview’s exempt percent has been 47.7 percent plus or minus 0.2 percent in each of the last three years, when adjustment is made for a 2008 tax assessment blunder by the Town of Poughkeepsie Assessor's office.
  • If the City of Poughkeepsie’s fire department were a fire district, it would be in the Big Three, both for its equivalent tax levy and its equivalent tax rate.
The big three are high priced fire districts.   But high priced fire districts also tend to be high quality-of-service fire districts.