Sunday, May 8, 2011

BOCES Is Indifferent to the Accuracy of its Property Tax Data

Every year, the Dutchess County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) publishes two comprehensive documents, a Contract Analysis book and a Fact Book, both for assisting school district administrators in their budgeting processes and in negotiating with labor unions.  Each document consists almost exclusively of tabulations comparing numerous parameters for the 13 school districts in Dutchess County. 
  • Contract Analysis 2010-2011, published January 2011, is a 157-page document, most of whose tables relate to salaries and benefits of school district employees.  However, a 35-page section called Financial contains district-wide tables related to budgets, costs per student, costs per expense category, and, yes, property tax information, including assessed values, tax levies, and tax rates.  Naturally, that's the part I've focused on.
  • Dutchess County Fact Book 2005-2006 through 2009-2010, published January 2011, is a 69-page document containing additional financial information, including more extensive property tax tables than appear in the Contract Analysis book.
In examining the above documents, I looked first at the current school district true value tax rates for the 13 school districts in Dutchess County, listed on page 144 of the Contract Analysis PDF (page 32 of the Financial section).  Comparing with my own analysis, I noticed significant discrepancies in 4 districts:  Beacon, Millbrook, Poughkeepsie, and Spackenkill.  The BOCES rates are lower than mine by 5 percent or more in most cases.  My report BOCES Tax Rate Variances documents these discrepancies in detail.  I sent this report to BOCES Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Linda Poleski, with the hope that she would review my analysis and determine whether the issues I raised about the accuracy of BOCES current true value tax rates could be substantiated.  Ms. Poleski graciously accepted my report, and within a few days informed me that BOCES has confirmed that all my tax rates are correct, and has adjusted its records accordingly.

OK, so far so good.  Encouraged by this initial interaction, I examined additional BOCES property tax tables, and found a significant number of additional discrepancies:
  • True Tax Rates – Historical table on page 147 (page 35 of the Financial section) of the Contract Analysis book contains tax rates for every school district going back a decade.  Although most of the tax rates in this table agree with my analysis, a significant number did not agree.  I found at least one disagreement in every year, and at least one disagreement in each of 8 school districts.  For the Poughkeepsie school district, there was no agreement in any year.  For the 2000-2001 school year, there was no agreement in any school district.  A number of disagreements exceeded 5 percent.
  • Total Property Value on page 19 of the Fact Book PDF (numbered page 13) contains true value taxable assessments for each school district in 2009 and 2010.  Of the 26 assessments, 12 agree with my analysis and 14 do not — more than half.  Most BOCES assessments are a few percent greater than mine, but 4 assessments are over 10 percent greater than mine.  The disagreements are especially puzzling since these numbers are used to compute the true value tax rates, for which we have much more agreement.
  • Comparison of Property taxes for 2005-06 to 2009-10 on page 15 of the Fact Book PDF (numbered page 9) contains the tax levies for these years for each school district.  The 2009 tax levies also appear on page 116 of the Contract Analysis PDF (page 4 of the Financial section).  I found no agreement at all between any of this data and my analysis.  Typically, BOCES data was on the order of 10 percent lower than mine, a very large variance.  Once again, this disagreement is especially puzzling since these numbers are used to compute the true value tax rates, for which we have substantial agreement.
I documented these discrepancies in Other BOCES Property Tax Variances, which I sent to Ms. Poleski on April 11.  I had some confidence that these new issues would be taken seriously, since BOCES had already accepted my previous discussion as being both responsible and accurate.  Unfortunately, after a number of conversations with Ms. Poleski it became clear that BOCES will not attempt to determine whether the new issues I raised regarding BOCES property tax tables are valid.  Ms. Poleski also stated that BOCES “will not go back and correct previous years”.  My conclusion from these interactions is that BOCES is indifferent to whether the property tax data in their two publications is accurate.

In summary, BOCES property tax data has been brought into serious question, and these questions have not been answered.  School district administrators may want to avoid relying on this data for their budget processes and union negotiations.

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