Saturday, February 4, 2012

Which Fire District Has the Highest Tax Rate in New York State?

It's been nearly three years since my first post to this blog, and a good time to update information in some of my initial posts. Originally named Fire Tax in Dutchess County, my blog expanded from “Fire” to “Property” after I began exploring wider issues.

True Value Tax Rates

A consistent theme of this blog is that true value tax rates, that is, tax rates expressed in dollars per thousand dollars of market value (not assessed value), are the appropriate way to compare the steepness of property taxes across different jurisdictions, as well as within the same jurisdiction across different years. The idea of taxes as a percent of home value is essentially the same idea. My second post to this blog explained true value tax rates (without using that handy name) in terms of fire taxes. Since then, I've explored variations on this theme many times, such as here, here, and here.

Which fire district in New York State has the highest fire taxes?

This question can be answered in principle by comparing the true value fire tax rates of every fire district in the state. Unfortunately, I don't have access to this information, so I can't really answer this question. However, there are a few contenders for highest fire taxes that I'll discuss here.

Regular readers of this blog know that the Fairview Fire District has the highest fire tax rate in Dutchess County, with a tax rate exceeding $5.00 per thousand dollars of market value for every year of this millennium. When I started this blog three years ago, no other fire district in Dutchess County came anywhere near to Fairview's $5.00 mark. None even reached $4.00. This has changed. The Arlington Fire District — one of the big three fire districts of Dutchess County — has dramatically increased its tax rate since I began this blog:

Arlington's tax rate has exceeded $4.00 in each of the last three years. For 2012, Arlington's rate of $4.89 is just 11 cents below the magic $5.00 mark.

Gordon Heights Fire District

But a stronger contender lives outside Dutchess County. The Gordon Heights Fire District in Suffolk County — the subject of my third post to this blog — has had a true value tax rate in the $4.00 and $5.00 range every year since at least 2004. The following chart comparing Fairview with Gordon Heights updates my chart of three years ago:

Gordon Heights beat out Fairview between 2004 and 2007, but Fairview has triumphed over Gordon Heights almost every year since then, with Gordon Heights just edging out Fairview last year. This year, Fairview is significantly “ahead”. In fact, Fairview's 2012 tax rate of $5.72 is higher than that of either district for any year since 2005. So, for now, Fairview is the prime contender for “highest fire tax rate in New York State”. If there's another fire district with higher tax rate, I'd like to know about it.

Differences between Fairview and Gordon Heights

Although Fairview and Gordon Heights have comparable tax rates, the two districts differ in a number of important ways. As I noted in my post three years ago, Fairview is staffed predominantly by career firefighters; Gordon Heights is a volunteer district for firefighting, although it has full-time paid staff for responding to medical emergencies. Paid staff accounts for most of the budget in both districts. I also noted that Gordon Heights has been cited for mismanagement of taxpayer dollars over a period of years.

A third difference between Fairview and Gordon Heights is that nearly half of Fairview's real property is tax exempt. To my knowledge, no significant part of Gordon Heights is exempt. This factor alone accounts for a substantial portion of Fairview's high tax rate.

Will Gordon Heights Drop Off the Radar?

The Gordon Heights Fire District may soon drop off the radar of high fire taxes. In the last three years, Gordon Heights has seen strong grass-roots political activity to dissolve the district, or otherwise bring an end to what advocates call the “killer fire taxes”. Two fire commissioners supporting this goal have been elected, and a third one was narrowly defeated two months ago. The Town of Brookhaven, which contains Gordon Heights, is conducting a feasibility study to determine how to remedy the Gordon Heights tax situation. In the future, it is possible that Gordon Heights Fire District will be “off the charts” in the sense that it will either no longer exist, or that it will have a more manageable fire tax rate.

Taxpayer Viewpoint

All tax rates in this post (and in most posts on my blog) are from the taxpayer's viewpoint. In other words, these tax rates derive from data used by the government offices which prepare tax bills, so they correspond to the taxes actually paid by taxpayers. Municipalities such as boards of fire commissioners generally find it more convenient to look at tax rates from the budget viewpoint instead of a taxpayer viewpoint. The two viewpoints usually give pretty much the same tax rates, but generally not exactly the same. For the technical differences, see my recent post Tax Rate Viewpoints — Taxpayer Versus Budget.


  1. What I'd like to know is what is the actual recorded operating expense budget for Dutchess County for all of 2010, then 2011,then the proposed operating plan for 2012? I fully understand a County Tax rate increase If and only if costs and goods increase; Which for energy and equipment they have. But that tax rate increase should be commensurate with the increase in the operating budget expense. What is sheer disbelief for many is how the taxable value of your home can fall 6.2% or more but the tax rate increases 6.2%?!?!?! What also needs to be explained is if the expenses increase from the overall county budget how does that fit in with the budget that is allocated for the specific towns and districts in the county where people live. That is to say, if say the town of Wappingers gets less money for 2012 than it did in 2011, how can a tax increase be justified for less goods and services provided by the municipalities? Probably everyone in this county has seen a significant drop in the valuation of their homes and property. How then does the tax increase and taxation levy increase over the prior year on a depreciated asset if expenses are not explained to back that up? Something is wrong here.

  2. @joenamath1: It sounds like your comment was meant for my 1/25/2012 post "Dutchess County 2012 Tax Rate Is Highest In Decade", not this post, which is about Fire Districts. I will respond to your comment under that post.


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