Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dutchess County Gov't 2013 Tax Rate Likely To Be Highest in Millennium

Newly elected County Executive Marcus Molinaro is many weeks away from announcing a proposed 2013 budget. After that, the county legislature must deliberate on adjustments before approving a final budget in December. Nevertheless, I can already predict with some confidence that the final 2013 county budget will result in the highest tax rate in this millennium, and the highest tax levy in the history of Dutchess County. In other words, properties will be taxed more steeply by Dutchess County Government than ever before in this millennium. These predictions are based on two tax trends:
  1. Dutchess County's taxable market value continues to fall — for the fifth year in a row.
  2. Dutchess County Government's tax levy has never significantly fallen, year-to-year.
Taxable Market Value

Dutchess County's taxable market value and tax levy for each year from 2001 through 2012 are derived from the tax rate pamphlets published by the Dutchess County Real Property Tax Service Agency (RPTSA).

For the 2013 tax bill, only an initial estimate of Dutchess County's taxable market value is available (shown in yellow), based on the July 1, 2012, assessment rolls. This value is shown as $30.7 billion on page 23 of a fiscal presentation by the Dutchess County Budget Office. The downward trend in property values since the beginning of the economic meltdown in 2008 is evident in the following chart:

The 2013 taxable market value is shown in yellow to indicate that it is only a preliminary value. The final value, which will not be available until late January 2013, is most likely to be somewhat lower than this value for a variety of reasons explained in detail here.

Note that taxable market value is a net value, including both the value of new construction and improvements, and the current value of existing construction. Dutchess County's taxable market value surged in the first part of the last decade. In 2008 it was 2.5 times larger than in 2001. But from 2008 to 2013 it fell 20 percent. Once again, this 20 percent includes the effects of both the value of new construction and the current value of existing construction. Since there has been some new construction, the value of existing construction must have dropped more than 20 percent since 2008. 

Year to year increases in the taxable market value are shown  below:

When I performed this analysis last year, it appeared as if the property value free-fall was nearly over, since the 2012 taxable market value decrease was the smallest since the meltdown. But the 2013 estimate clearly contradicts that conclusion. Although the 2013 decrease is only an initial estimate, the final decrease will most likely be somewhat greater. Note that all these market values lag tax bills by a year and a half. For example, for tax bills to be paid in February 2013, the corresponding market values are as of July 1, 2011.

Tax Levy

To reason about the 2013 tax levy, let's consider Dutchess County's tax levy history:

The above charts show that Dutchess County's tax levy has increased by a significant amount almost every year. Only in 2002 and 2011 has the tax levy been essentially unchanged from the previous year. Accordingly, I've made the most conservative assumption, that Dutchess County's 2013 tax levy increase will be zero. Based on history, it's unlikely that Dutchess County's 2013 tax levy will be lower than the 2012 levy. The yellow bar indicates that this data point is speculative.

Tax Rate

The 2013 true value tax rate, which is calculated by dividing the assumed 2013 tax levy by the 2013 taxable market value, is $3.38 per thousand dollars of market value

The above chart shows that this projected 2013 tax rate for Dutchess County (in yellow) is higher than in any previous year. This projection is almost certainly a low estimate. That's because the final 2013 taxable market value and the 2013 tax levy are both likely to move in a direction to increase this tax rate even further. The tax rate increase chart gives a third reason to conclude that the $3.38 estimate is conservative:

If Dutchess County's 2013 tax rate turns out to be “only” $3.38 — the highest in this millennium — it will still represent the lowest tax rate increase since the meltdown.

Will My Predictions Stand the Test of Time?

What would it take for my tax rate prediction of at least $3.38 or my prediction of the largest tax levy in Dutchess County's history to be wrong? Well, perhaps Molinaro will propose an especially frugal budget with a lower tax levy than last year's. But this won't be easy to do. Former County Executive William Steinhaus was known for shrinking county government and implementing other austerity measures in the years since the meltdown. It's unlikely there's a lot of fat to cut. Meanwhile, the costs of everything are continuing to increase. The effects of the 2008 economic meltdown are still being felt all over, despite allegations of a “recovery”.

How Will We Know Whether My Predictions Are Correct?

The first and most significant indication of whether my predictions are correct will occur next month, when Molinero announces his proposed budget. The second and probably less significant indication will be when the County Legislature approves the budget, possibly with modifications, in December. But the final word will not be out until January, when the 2013 tax rate pamphlet is released by the RPTSA, possibly with slight adjustments as described here. It is these tax rates that are used to generate property tax bills. Ultimately, it is the property tax bills that define how steeply taxpayers are being taxed.

I Hope I'm Wrong

It would be great if my predictions turn out to be wrong. Property taxpayers have been suffering more every year since the meltdown, and of course not just from Dutchess County Government taxes. Only time will tell whether my prediction of Dutchess County's 2013 tax rate of $3.38 turns out to be low-ball.

UPDATE 10/6/2012 — Budget May Exceed 2% Tax Cap

Just a day after publication of this post, it already looks like my caution that my predictions might be wrong may be unwarranted. A front page story in yesterday's Poughkeepsie Journal describes Molinaro's intent to replenish  the County's rainy-day fund. The story quotes Dutchess County Legislative Chairman Robert Rolison as saying that Molinaro's plan would probably require exceeding the State's 2 percent tax cap. Nevertheless, Rolison signaled his intent to support such an increase. As I see it, the stage is already being set to increase the County's 2013 tax levy by at least 2 percent over 2012. Even at just 2 percent, the 2013 tax rate would be $3.45, a 6.1 percent increase over 2012. Such a result would easily confirm my predictions.

1 comment:

  1. the cry is rising teacher and administrative salaries and benefits. Only 5% of the actual school budget goes towards the kids. federal mandates counties keep adopting aren't helping the situation and only exacerbating the problem.


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